Read an Excerpt From Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Beholden

Two sisters, a pregnant aristocrat and a scholar-magician, and themselves at the center of a conflict between the immortal being Decay and the Emperor himself…

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Cassandra Rose Clarke’s newest fantasy novel The Beholden, out January 18, 2022 from Erewhon Books.

Orphaned as young women, Celestia and Izara De Malena find themselves land rich but destitute, with only a failing rainforest acreage, Celestia’s perfect manners, and Izara’s nascent magic to their aristocratic names. With the last of their money running out, they enact a dangerous plan—using a spell she doesn’t fully understand, Izara summons the Lady of the Seraphine and demands a favor: a husband for Celestia, one rich enough to enable the De Malena sisters to keep their land. But a favor from the river goddess always comes at a cost…

Now, five years later, rumors of war and disease are spreading, Celestia’s husband has been called away on a secret mission for the Emperor, and the Lady of the Seraphine is back to collect her due. Izara will be forced to leave the academy where she has been studying to become a mage; Celestia will be pulled from her now-flourishing farm while newly pregnant with her first child. Together, they must repay their debt to the Lady—embarking on a mission that will put them on a collision course with Celestia’s husband, the Emperor, and a god even more powerful than the Lady of the Seraphine.

The Beholden follows Celestia and Izara as they journey from the lush rainforest to a frozen desert on an impossible quest to find a god who doesn’t want to be found and prevent the end of the world.


 

In Chapter One, sisters Celestia and Izara have made a deal with the goddess of the Seraphine river for good fortune in their lives. In return, they will owe the goddess a favor.

Since that day, five years have passed…

***

 

Chapter Two

Aurelia De Linza brought news of the electrification of Jaila-Seraphine when she arrived at Cross Winds acreage during her visiting tour of the great houses of the estuaries.

“It’s a bit like Yusani alchemy,” she said, sipping at the sparkling mango drink which was a Cross Winds specialty. “But without the dreadful side effects—the headaches and such.”

“I never cared for Yusani alchemy,” said Noreen, who was perched primly on the edge of the Devan, as she always did when she stopped by for afternoon socializations. “But electricity seems so dangerous. As if we think we could control lightning!”

“We think we can control fire,” said Celestia. “As soon as the sun goes down this place is blazing with torches.”

The other two women nodded while Celestia drank her sparkling mango. Aurelia had arrived this morning, two days earlier than her letter had promised. Celestia’d had to rally the servants to prepare a proper luncheon despite the week’s supplies being scheduled for delivery tomorrow. Cookie came through, though, the way she always did, with a rustic-style picnic out on the forest lawn. Now that the luncheon was over and they had retired to the sun room, Celestia finally felt as she could relax. It was only a temporary relaxation, of course: this evening she would have other, non-Aurelia matters to attend to. But she wouldn’t worry about them now.

“I found it terribly exciting,” Aurelia was saying. “The lighting ceremony was really quite lovely—so many people, though! Fortunately, Father was able to secure a private viewing balcony.” She set down her cup and then waved her fan half-heartedly a few times. “I do wish you had been there, Celestia, I think you would have found it marvelous. It was quite a sight when the lights went up—whooosh, all at once!” She laughed and gestured with her fan.

Noreen sniffed. “I still say it’s not natural.”

“Which buildings did they illuminate?” Celestia asked, hoping to head off another one of Noreen’s screeds about the tyranny of progress before it could begin.

“The governor’s mansion,” said Aurelia. “And Soziri Square. Every window of the governor’s mansion had a light in it, which was simply breathtaking. And within the square, they hung little strings of lights from the statues. Lovely, just lovely.”

“And no one was sick?” Celestia asked.

“Not a soul, that’s what the papers said the next day.”

Celestia settled back in her chair, impressed. A way to light darkness without fire or magic—such an interesting proposition. They used fire here at Cross Winds, of course, as it was safer, and Lindon had that adventurer’s distrust for magic, but Celestia had been in temples illuminated by Yusani alchemy, widely agreed to be the safest magical means of creating light. That light was very beautiful—a pale, diffuse glow, like sun-drenched mist—but after too long your forehead would throb from the strain. Beauty wasn’t always worth it.

“I don’t trust it,” said Noreen.

“Of course you don’t,” said Celestia, smiling sweetly. “I think it sounds astonishing,” she said to Aurelia. “Thank you for sharing.”

“The governor said he hopes to electrify all of the major cities by the end of this year,” Aurelia said. “And then he’ll turn his attention to private homes. Can you imagine! No more woodsmoke or scorch marks or alchemy headaches. The light was bright, too, I didn’t mention that. Much brighter than a candle.” She reached out and touched Celestia’s arm. “You’d be able to stay up all hours writing your poetry, dear.”

“We were meant to sleep in the darkness,” said Noreen. “And live our lives during the day.”

Celestia kept her expression pleasant; she was used to dealing with Noreen. “Oh, I doubt electricity will change things that much.”

“You’re still young,” Noreen said. “You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen.”

Aurelia shifted in her chair and fiddled with her cup. Noreen was an old-fashioned sort—behind her back Lindon was always saying she was aa mossy as an ancient stone, and yes, there was some truth to it. But Celestia was fond of her nonetheless. She lived across the river, in a Kjaran-era manor that had been built nearly five hundred years ago. It possessed all those Kjaran details, the flying buttresses and black stonework and odd carvings on the roof. Celestia suspected that living amongst all that history had made Noreen resistant to change.

“What other houses will you be visiting?” Celestia asked Aurelia, before the conversation could turn too sour. It was a pleasant day, the northerly wind bringing an unseasonable coolness to the damp, sunny air. It would be a shame to waste it on unpleasant talk.

“Oh, Grimwood and May Lace and Jencox,” Aurelia said, counting them off excitedly on her fingers. “And Wild Willow, off the Weeping Tributary—Mother is old friends with the Mistress De Dalmios. And Master De Dalmios has a working telegraph machine! He uses it for his business. I do hope someone sends him a message while I’m there.”

Celestia smiled. “You sound like Izara. She was always as fascinated by machines as she was magic.”

Aurelia beamed. “I’m nowhere near as clever as she is.”

“How is Izara?” Noreen asked, mercifully keeping her own feelings about machines to herself.

“I haven’t heard anything.” Celestia looked down at her hands, folded neatly in the silky cloud of her skirts. “You know how the Academy is. So secretive. She can only send letters at certain times of the year.”

“Of course,” said Noreen, and Aurelia dipped her head a little, in embarrassment or acknowledgment Celestia wasn’t sure. To serve as an acolyte of the Academy was to disappear from the ordinary world for a decade. It was necessary, claimed the dean that Celestia had spoken to the day her sister enrolled, for the students to immerse themselves in the magical sphere, so as to better connect with Aetheric Realm. Even the briefest missive could be enough to undo years of effort. Celestia didn’t pretend to understand it, but Izara was blessed by Iomin’s Treasure—in great quantities, the dean had said—and it would be a shame to let that Treasure go to waste.

“I’m sure she’s doing very well,” said Aurelia.

“I’m sure she is, too,” said Celestia, and Noreen nodded in agreement. There would be no disapproval here: magic was an ancient thing, worthy of her trust.

Aurelia then began to talk about the last house she had visited, Jasmine Night. It was a three days’ trip by riverboat down the Seraphine, and Celestia had visited on a handful of occasions, mostly for holidays. It seemed Aurelia had been rather taken with Lady D’Corizen’s pet cats, large, slinky creatures that, it was rumored, had the blood of jaguars running through their veins. Celestia half-listened, but her thoughts were still with Izara, secreted away somewhere high in the mountains. She’d been an acolyte for nearly three years, and so for three years Celestia had been without her sister. She thought then about the secret she was keeping from her friends, the secret she had planned to share with Lindon until Aurelia arrived early—perhaps she would still tell him tonight. She needed to. It was not the sort of thing she could keep to herself. Still, she wished Izara was here. It was the sort of thing easier told to a sister.

A knock came at the door. Aurelia fell silent and looked at Celestia expectedly.

“Come in,” Celestia called out.

It was Mr. Medulla, the butler. He scurried into the sun room and gave a quick bow to each of the ladies. “Lady De Malena,” he said. “I beg your pardon, but there is someone at the door.”

Celestia frowned. Noreen peered over at her. “Oh, did you invite someone to join us? Lady De Buella, perhaps? Although I heard she was traveling—”

“No,” said Celestia. “I didn’t.” She looked at Mr. Medulla. “Is it someone we know?”

Mr. Medulla coughed politely into his fist. He wore his darker linen today, a nod to the cool breezes drifting through the estate. “I’m afraid not, Lady. They’re—” He paused, his small dark eyes flitting toward Celestia’s guests. “They’re adventurers.”

“Adventurers!” cried Aurelia, just as Noreen pressed her fingers to her forehead.

“I see,” said Celestia. She imagined her plans for revealing her secret to Lindon tonight as swaths of cheaply-made fabric, the weave unravelling as she watched. If adventurers were here, Lindon would want to feast them, to stay up late drinking with them, listening to their stories and songs and reliving his own years as an adventurer, before he met Celestia on the banks of the Seraphine five years ago.

“Oh, do invite them to stay,” Aurelia said. “I haven’t seen a single adventuring party since I started my travels, and they never come into Jaila-Seraphine.” She gazed over at Celestia with doe-eyed naïveté. City girls had such romantic ideas about adventurers, having never dealt with them in close quarters.

“Show them to the sitting room.” Celestia wished she could turn them away, but custom and Lindon dictated that wasn’t an option. “See that they have water or sparkling lime—no ale.”

“You’re no fun,” said Aurelia.

“Oh, she knows what she’s doing,” said Noreen.

“Of course, my lady. Will you speak to them about their arrangements or shall I fetch Master De Malena?”

Celestia hesitated. Lindon was out in the forest with the property manager Mr. Tili, overseeing the avocado planting. She hated to disturb him, and the thought of the adventurers sprawling out in her sitting room, with their filthy clothes and muddy boots, in the time it would take to bring him back, sent a shiver wriggling down her spine.

“I’ll speak to them. Tell them I’ll be there in a few moments. Get them settled, Mr. Medulla.”

“Of course, my lady.” He bowed, more deeply this time, and then slipped out of the room.

“This is exciting,” said Aurelia, sitting up in her chair. “Do you think one of them will be handsome?”

“No,” said Noreen.

Aurelia batted at her in annoyance, but Celestia just laughed. “She’s right, you know. These men spend too long in the forest—”

“Master Lindon is handsome,” said Aurelia coyly.

“He’s the exception that proves the rule,” said Celestia haughtily. Aurelia giggled, and Celestia couldn’t hold that haughtiness for long, so she dissolved into laughter herself. Only Noreen didn’t join in.

“At least they came here instead of my estate,” she said.

“They always come here,” said Celestia. “Lindon has a reputation among them. As you can imagine.”

Noreen murmured a hum of acknowledgement. Celestia stood up and smoothed down her skirts. “I’m going to speak with them now. Feel free to ring Mr. Medulla if you need anything. The river lawn is lovely this time of day, if you feel like going for a constitutional.” Celestia sighed. “I’m really not sure how long this is going to take.”

“You never know with those brutes,” said Noreen.

“Brutes,” breathed Aurelia, before giggling again. Celestia smiled, but it was the smile of a married woman, of someone who knew better.

She left her guests in the sun room. Noreen would likely disappear back across the river, as was her way—with adventurers here she would be avoiding dinner tonight. And Aurelia needed time to explore the estate on her own anyway. The guided tour was planned for tomorrow morning, but there was more joy in sneaking around an estate unchaperoned—as Celestia had learned on her own visiting tour, many years ago, traveling on the last of her family’s money.

The windows were open in the hallways, the sweet-scented wind of the forest billowing in with the curtains. Celestia’s skirts blew around her ankles. A strange day, with this cool southerly breeze. She ought to enjoy it while she could—the afternoon rains would be starting soon, and in this weather they were likely to be chilly and unpleasant.

The sitting room doors were shut, but Celestia could hear the muffled voices of the adventurers anyway. One of them said something to make the others laugh, a riotous noise that made the hairs on her arm stand on end. Gods, if only the Lady of the Seraphine hadn’t seen fit to marry her to an adventuring man.

Celestia took a deep breath and pushed open the doors. Her sitting room, with its meticulously dyed sofas and chairs, its expensive tapestries hanging from the walls, had been invaded. Three men and a woman, all of them dressed in the worn brown rags of all adventurers—no doubt their clothing had contained color at some point, but months of traipsing through the forest, or living at sea, or exploring the empty mountains, had done its damage. Their hair was filthy, greasy, and lank, and a trail of mud led around the floor of the room.

They were sitting in a clump near the window, sloshing their sparkling mangos around and laughing. They hadn’t noticed her yet. She stepped into the room. Still nothing. She cleared her throat.

Finally, one of them, a man who looked more like a boy, glanced in her direction. He immediately leapt to his feet, spilling his sparkling mango in the process. The others took notice after that, twisting in their seats toward Celestia.

“Hello,” she said.

“Lady De Malena.” One of the men walked toward her, his arms spread out as if he expected an embrace. “Such a pleasure to meet you. We’ve heard nothing but good things. Isn’t that right, boys?”

The others, even the woman, lifted their cups and cheered.

“That’s lovely to hear,” said Celestia, hoping her voice didn’t sound too strained. If it did, the adventurers didn’t notice, because they erupted into cheers again. Celestia suppressed a sigh. It was going to be a long, noisy evening.

“I wanted to show you to your accommodations myself,” Celestia said. “We have some charming guest rooms in the river-facing wing. I hope you’ll find them to our liking.”

“Better than any place we’ve been sleeping the last three months,” said the woman. “No doubt, no doubt at all.”

“Well, ‘cept for Spider,” one of the men said, and he slapped the younger boy on his back. “That one knew how to wheedle his way into any whorehouse in the Seraphine, ain’t that right?”

The adventurers roared with laughter. Celestia managed to keep her face dispassioante.

“Dinner will be served at seven this evening,” she said, raising her voice over the jeering of the adventurers. “I can ask Mr. Medulla to draw you baths, if you like.”

“Baths?” shrieked one of the men. “Well, ain’t that fancy.”

The woman shoved him hard on the shoulder. “You better take a bath if you’re going to dine with the Lady De Malena.” And then she gave a bow towards Celestia, swirling her hand like some noble in a play. Celestia couldn’t decide if she was mocking her or not.

“My husband will be joining us for dinner,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll be quite excited to hear about your travels.”

“Lindon Asi!” shouted one of the adventurers, and that set them all to cheering again, and knocking their glasses of sparkling mango against one another. “Best adventurer in the Seraphine!”

It was always jarring to hear Lindon’s old name. He’d taken hers so he could have the title that went along with it, rather than adding the contracted D that was a sign of wealth without the title.

“May he rest in peace,” said the woman.

“Good riddance, more like,” said the man. “More commissions for the rest of us!”

The adventurers roared with delight. Celestia couldn’t stand it in anymore. She surreptitiously reached over and rang the bell to call for Mr. Medulla. Custom be damned. He could tend to the adventurers’ needs, the way he did any other guest in this house.

He appeared almost instantaneously, materializing at her side as if through some illicit magic. The adventurers laughed and jostled amongst themselves. “Shall I handle our guests for you, Lady De Malena?” he asked in a quiet, discrete voice.

“Yes, thank you very much.” Celestia turned to the adventurers. “I’m afraid I’ve been called aw—”

They weren’t listening to her. She didn’t have the patience for this. She turned to Mr. Medulla and he said, “I will give them your apologies, my lady.”

“Thank you.” She gave him a bright, genuine smile and then slipped out of the room. The adventurer’s voices followed her as she whisked down the hallway.

“I want to hear everything,” Aurelia said.

The dinner table sparkled beneath the candles in the chandelier, light flickering and guttering across the room. A lovely effect, thought Celestia, and she wondered if it would be ruined by the electric lights from Jaila-Seraphine.

“Everything?” one of the adventurers asked, leaning forward over his plate. He had introduced himself to Lindon earlier as Orlando, and Celestia hardly recognized him from the drawing room. She hardly recognized any of the adventurers, now that their hair was washed and they wore clean clothes from the stores Celestia kept in one of the empty guest rooms. Another part of the custom of housing adventurers, and one that Celestia was certain had been devised by the wife of Lord De Nucci, the man who’d started the tradition of the great houses offering sanctuary to wandering adventurers.

“Agreed,” said Lindon, lifting his glass. “We haven’t had an adventuring party at Cross Winds in nearly six months. I miss the old stories.”

“I imagine you do,” said the young man, who had introduced himself as Spider during the aperitifs. The woman—Lucia—squawked with laughter, then immediately silenced herself. She wore men’s clothes, trousers and a waistcoat even though Celestia had offered her one of her old gowns. “Not interested, m’lady,” she’d said. “Never could get used to skirts.” Celestia had to admit the men’s clothes suited her.

“Well,” said Lindon, leaning back in his chair, “There’s much to be said for settling down.” He smiled over at Celestia and lifted his glass toward her. The golden glow of the candlelight illuminated the strong lines of his features, and Celestia was reminded of the first moment she had seen him, swimming across the Seraphine, a burning riverboat in his wake. It had been sunset, and the light had been the same, like liquid gold. She smiled back at him and hoped she would have a moment with him to herself later this evening. Even with Aurelia and the adventurers, her secret weighed heavily on her mind.

“Aye,” said Orlando. “I could get used to this life.” He gestured at the dining room, at the soup course steaming on the table. Then he winked at Aurelia, who covered her mouth and giggled. A proper lady.

“So where have you traveled?” Lindon asked. “Like the Lady Aurelia here, I want to know everything.”

Everyone at the table laughed. The adventurers kept their laughter low-key and calm. These were higher-level adventurers, the sort hired out by nobility, and they knew how to fit in at a great house better than they let on.

“We actually just arrived back in the Seraphine,” said Lucia, stirring at her soup. “About, oh, what was it—a week ago, maybe?”

“Mmhmm,” said Orlando. “We’ve been up in Eiren, working a case for an Eirenese merchant.”

“Eiren!” exclaimed Aurelia. “What was it like?”

“Cold.” The fourth adventurer, Crell, sat beside Celestia. He hadn’t spoken much at the aperitif. Only introduced himself as was proper and then stood over by the window, looking out at the dark forest.

“That it was,” said Spider. “Cold like you can’t possibly imagine. Seeps right into your bones.”

“Hard country,” said Lucia. “The country’s as like to kill you as the people. Well, the wrong kind of people.”

“The kind of people we’re apt to run into,” said Orlando, and Lindon chuckled knowingly before taking a spoonful of soup.

“What was your case?” Celestia asked.

“Oh, the usual kind of thing. The merchant’s son had gone missing. Been kidnapped, in fact, by one of the northern warlords. Ransomed him for the merchant’s wealth. Merchant hired us to go steal the kid back so he wouldn’t have to pay.”

“Pay the warlord anyway,” said Lucia, and the adventurers laughed.

“Well, we didn’t take his whole fortune,” Orlando said. “We ain’t crooks.”

More laughter. Aurelia’s eyes shimmered with delight, but Celestia only stirred at her soup and smiled politely. She’d heard these kinds of stories a million times over. From other adventurers who had taken advantage of the tradition and spent the night at Cross Winds, and from Lindon himself. How many kidnapped merchant’s children had he rescued, she wondered. She’d heard at least three similar stories from him, the details shifting and transmuting into one entangled epic.

“What was the warlord like?” Aurelia asked.

“Terrifying,” said Orlando, leaning over the table toward her. She shrunk back, giggling. “Monstrous. A huge man—seven, eight foot tall.” He lifted his hand. “Taller than me. And big around as a bear. Like a kajan from the old stories.”

Lindon glanced over at Celestia, a knowing gleam in his eye. Aurelia stared at Orlando, transfixed, and Celestia prayed to the Airiana that she would take the proper precautions if she snuck into his room tonight.

“And pale, too,” said Lucia. “A true Eiren man.”

“Aye,” said Spider. “Even his hair was pale. No color in him at all. Looked like he was carved out of snow and ice.”

“How frightening!” said Aurelia.

“It wasn’t so bad,” said Spider.

Lucia laughed. “You weren’t saying that when you were running away from his camp, screaming like a baby for his mother.”

Spider glowered, but the rest of the adventurers broke into the raucous laughter Celestia had been bracing herself for. She spooned up her soup. Five more courses. Then, of course, they would retire to the smoking room, where Lindon would want to stay up all hours reliving the glory of his past. And she’d have to delay telling him her secret. Again. She’d already put it off for so long.

Orlando launched into the story of the merchant’s son and the northern warlord, with the other adventurers—save for Crell, who only listened as he ate his soup—throwing in details and corrections. Celestia had heard enough of these sorts of stories that she was able to predict, quite accurately, the twists and turns the tale would take. On the few occasions that Lindon had spoken honestly about his adventures, usually when he’d been drinking too much, Celestia had not been so quick to guess the route of the story. She would never have guessed, for instance, that one of his closest friends would die not during the heat of battle but from a snakebite in the forest, from a snake that even children knew how to identify and avoid, because he was so exhausted from walking for three months without proper food and shelter. She would never have guessed that men would eat biscuits riddled with worms as they rode across the sea to find their glories, or that Lindon had wept in the arms of a whore because he missed the sight of the Seraphine glittering in the sunlight. But this story, with its barbaric warlord and its frozen, windswept landscape, its battles and schemes—this was a story Celestia knew.

Aurelia, however, was enrapt, and she barely touched her food as the servants brought the courses out one after another. Even Lindon, who surely knew better than Celestia how false the story was, laughed and cheered at the appropriate parts. The story dragged on, twisting in improbable directions, and Celestia found herself watching Crell instead of Orlando and the others. Although he looked like the part of an adventurer, with his shaggy hair and unkempt beard and dirty fingernails, he ate in the mannered style, like a man who’d grown up in a great house. He cut his fish with delicacy, and he scooped up the last of his soup in the proper direction. Hours earlier he had been sloshing mango drink on the floor of her drawing room, roaring with laughter—now he was practically a gentleman.

Crell looked up at her.

Celestia immediately glanced away, cheeks hot.

“Yes, my lady?” Crell said.

Spoken like a true gentleman. Celestia lifted her eyes to him. He was staring at her, his gaze intense.

“Are you enjoying your meal?” Celestia said, scolding herself for staring so rudely.

“Haven’t had food like this in a long time.”

“I take it that’s a good thing?”

At the other end of the table, Orlando reached a crescendo in the story, and everyone cheered in approval. Their table was becoming less and less like a table in a great house.

“Indeed, my lady. Tell your cook this fish is excellent.” He gestured at the pile of bones on his plate.

“I’ll do that. Thank you.”

Spider interjected something into the tale of the northern warlord that made the other laugh riotously. Crell glared down at them.

“Fools,” he muttered.

“Pardon?” said Celestia.

Crell grinned at her. “You’re a curious one,” he said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Celestia responded, even though he was correct—she had been curious. “A lady is always concerned for the comfort of her guest. And you seem—uncomfortable, Mr. Crell.”

He chuckled and took a drink of his wine. “I’m not uncomfortable, my lady, only bored.”

“Well, the story’s not for your entertainment, is it? You lived it, after all.”

“The story’s nothing but entertainment,” he said. “Payment for letting us stay in your house.”

Celestia smiled politely in response.

Crell leaned forward, pushing his empty plate aside. “Would you like to know what we really found in Eiren?” he asked in a low voice.

Celestia’s skin prickled. She suspected he was trying to frighten her, but she was not easily frightened. Certainly not by stories. And she was bored, too. She wanted a story she could not predict.

“What did you find?” she asked.

“Something unnatural.” Crell leaned back in his chair and swirled the wine around in his glass. “They call it a disease, but that’s not what it is. A disease kills.” He drained the last of his wine and set it on the table; one of the servants slid out of the shadows to refill it. Celestia stared at Crell, not sure what to say.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she finally said.

He laughed, a hard and bitter laugh that blended in with the more mirthful laughter from the other end of the table. “Neither do we. Nor anyone in Eiren, much as they might claim otherwise. But I’m sure a lady of your standing isn’t interested in hearing the details.”

Celestia lifted her chin. “A lady of my standing might surprise you, Mr. Crell.” Every time she said it she became more certain that wasn’t his true name, that his true name began with the nobleman’s prefix.

“Well, in that case…” His eyes glittered. “Thing in Eiren—they aren’t dying.”

Celestia blinked in surprise. “Come again?”

“I don’t know how else to explain it.” He turned toward Orlando, who was gesturing wildly above his place setting. “Whatever it was, it was the real reason we were able to get the boy back. Warlord Eklund had killed him. But he wouldn’t die.”

Celestia let out a disbelieving laugh. “I’m afraid I’m not nearly as gullible as Amelia.”

“Good thing I’m not lying.” Crell’s eyes took on a hard glint. “I saw it with my own eyes. Eklund drew a knife across the boy’s throat. He bled out. They tossed his corpse, and he stood up and walked right to us.”

Celestia stared at him and listened to the excited staccato of Orlando’s story.

“He wasn’t really dead,” she said. “He couldn’t be.”

“Lady De Malena, with all due respect,” Crell said, “I’ve seen more corpses than you.”

Celestia did not have a response to that.

“There were other rumors,” he continued, taking a long sip of his wine. “About the grass growing underneath the snow. Trees not dropping their leaves. We didn’t see any of that, though. Just the boy, striding toward us with his throat gaping open.” He paused. “Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t come to the Seraphine.”

Celestia shivered. She thought about her secret, and touched a hand to her stomach.

“Yes,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t come to the Seraphine, either.”

 

Excerpted from The Beholden, copyright © 2022 by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

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