Free Extract: Castles in their Bones by Laura Sebastian
By Callie Robertson
Posted on January 25, 2022 in Extract, Fantasy, Young Adult with tags castles in their bones, laura sebastian
Born to rule. Raised to deceive.
The plot: overthrow a kingdom. The goal: world domination. The plan: marriage.
Empress Margaraux has had plans for her daughters since the day they were born. Princesses Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz will be queens. And now, age sixteen, they each must leave their homeland and marry their princes.
Beautiful, smart, and demure, the triplets appear to be the perfect brides – because Margaraux knows there is one common truth: everyone underestimates a girl. Which is a grave mistake. Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz are no innocents. They have been trained since birth in the arts of deception, seduction, and violence with a singular goal – to bring down monarchies – and their marriages are merely the first stage of their mother’s grand vision: to one day reign over the entire continent of Vestria.
The princesses have spent their lives preparing, and now they are ready, each with her own secret skill, and each with a single wish, pulled from the stars. Only, the stars have their own plans – and their mother hasn’t told them all of hers.
Life abroad is a test. Will their loyalties stay true? Or will they learn that they can’t trust anyone – not even each other?
It is said that the stars shine brighter on the princesses’ birthday, but the princesses themselves think that is balderdash. The stars look the same as they always do, and this year, on the night before the three of them leave their home and one another for the first time in their lives, everything—the stars included—seems far darker.
The sounds from the party drift through the palace as the clock nears midnight, but the princesses have abandoned the celebration, Daphne plucking a bottle of champagne from an ice bucket while Beatriz bats her eyes at the server and Sophronia keeps a lookout to ensure that their mother doesn’t see them. They have done their duty, danced and toasted, shaken hands and kissed cheeks, smiled until their faces ached, but they want to spend their last few minutes of girlhood the same way they came into the world sixteen years ago: together.
Their childhood rooms haven’t changed much since they were moved there from the nursery—still three identical white rooms connected to a shared parlor, each with the same white canopied bed piled high with silk pillows, the same birch desk and armoire, inlaid with gold in a pattern of vines and flowers, and the same plush rose-colored rug stretching across the floor. The shared parlor is full of over- stuffed velvet seating and a grand marble fireplace carved to represent the constellations that moved across the sky at the time of their birth—a full moon of inlaid opal at the center, surrounded by the constellations: the Thorned Rose, the Hungry Hawk, the Lonely Heart, the Crown of Flames, and, of course, the Sisters Three.
Rumor has it that Empress Margaraux had tasked the royal empyrea, Nigellus, to use magic to ensure they were born when the Sisters Three crossed overhead, but others say that’s ridiculous—after all, why would she have wished for three girls when a single boy would have been far more helpful?
Others whisper that the Sisters Three was the constellation that Nigellus had pulled a star down from to grant the empress’s wish for children, though none appear to be missing. But she must have wished, on that everyone agrees. How else could the emperor have suddenly fathered three daughters, at the age of seventy, when his last wife and his countless mistresses had never fallen pregnant?
And then there is the matter of the princesses’ eyes— not their mother’s brown or their father’s blue but the star-touched silver that only graced those conceived with magic. Those with stardust running through their veins.
Sitting on the rug before the mantel, Daphne can’t help but glance at the constellations as she adjusts the skirt of her green organza dress around her like flower petals.
Babies born beneath the Thorned Rose are known to be beautiful.
Those born beneath the Hungry Hawk are ambitious.
Lonely Heart children are known to sacrifice more than others.
The Crown of Flames offers its offspring power.
And the Sisters Three bestow balance and harmony. There are exceptions, of course—Daphne knows of plenty of people born beneath the Thorned Rose who did not grow up beautiful and many born beneath the Crown of Flames who became chimney sweeps and cabbage farmers. But still, more people believe in the omens of the stars than don’t— even Daphne, logical as she is about most things, takes the daily horoscopes laid out with her breakfast to heart.
Her eyes keep drifting to the mantel as she struggles to open the stolen bottle of champagne with her glass nail file. After some digging, the stopper comes loose with a loud pop that makes her shriek in surprise, the cork careening into the air and hitting the chandelier above, making the crystals chime together. The champagne bubbles over onto her dress and the rug, cold and wet.
“Careful!” Sophronia cries out, hurrying to the adjoining powder room for towels.
Beatriz snorts, holding three delicate crystal glasses to the mouth of the bottle, letting Daphne fill them up almost to the brim. “Or what?” she calls after Sophronia. “It isn’t as if we’re going to be here long enough to get in trouble for ruining a rug.”
Sophronia returns, towel in hand, and begins mopping up the spilled champagne anyway, her brow furrowed.
Seeing her expression, Beatriz softens. “Sorry, Sophie,” she says before taking a sip from one of the glasses and passing the others to her sisters. “I didn’t mean . . .” She trails off, unsure of what, exactly, she did mean.
Sophronia doesn’t seem to know either, but she drops the sopping towel on the floor and sinks down on the sofa beside Beatriz, who drapes an arm over her shoulders, rustling the taffeta of her rose-pink off-the-shoulder gown in the process.
Daphne looks at them over the rim of her champagne glass, downing half of it in a single gulp before her eyes fall to the wet towel.
By the time that’s dry, she thinks, we’ll have left this place. We won’t see one another for a year.
The first part is tolerable enough—Bessemia is home, but they have always known they would leave when they came of age. Beatriz south to Cellaria, Sophronia west to Temarin, and Daphne north to Friv. They have been preparing for their duties for as long as Daphne can remember, to marry the princes they’ve been betrothed to and drive their countries to war against one another, allowing their mother to sweep in and pick up the shattered pieces and add them to her domain like new jewels for her crown.
But that’s all for the future. Daphne pushes her mother’s plots aside and focuses on her sisters. The sisters she won’t see again for a year, if everything goes to plan. They haven’t spent more than a few hours apart in their entire lives. How will they manage an entire year?
Beatriz must see Daphne’s smile wobble, because she gives a dramatic roll of her eyes—her own tell for when she’s trying not to show her emotions.
“Come on,” Beatriz says, her voice cracking slightly as she pats the sofa on her other side.
Daphne stands up from the rug for an instant before falling onto the sofa beside Beatriz gracelessly, letting her head drop onto Beatriz’s bare shoulder. Beatriz’s strapless sky- blue gown looks terribly uncomfortable, its corseted bodice digging into her skin and leaving behind red indents that peek over the top, but Beatriz doesn’t appear to feel it.
Daphne wonders if hiding her feelings is a trick Triz picked up during her training with the palace courtesans— a necessity, their mother said, to fulfill her own objective in Cellaria—or if that is simply how her sister is: only two minutes older but always managing to seem like a woman, when Daphne still feels like a child.
“Are you worried?” Sophronia asks, taking the daintiest of sips from her glass.
Despite the fact that they are triplets, Sophronia has a lower tolerance for alcohol than her sisters. Half a glass of champagne for her is the equivalent of two full glasses for Daphne and Beatriz. Hopefully one of her attendants in Temarin knows that, Daphne thinks. Hopefully someone will keep an eye on her there, when Daphne and Beatriz can’t.
Beatriz snorts. “What on earth would I be nervous about? At this point, I feel as if I could seduce Lord Savelle in my sleep.”
Lord Savelle is the first part of the empress’s grand plan—the Temarinian ambassador in Cellaria, he has been responsible for keeping the peace between the countries for the last two decades, the longest they have gone without war in centuries. In compromising him, Beatriz will reignite that conflict and add a few extra logs to the fire.
“Cellaria alone would make me nervous,” Sophronia admits, shuddering. “No empyreas, no stardust, no magic at all. I heard King Cesare had a man burned alive because he thought him responsible for a drought.”
Beatriz only shrugs. “Yes, well, I’ve been preparing for it, haven’t I?” she says. “And the king’s increasing paranoia should make it even easier to incite war. I might beat both of you back here.”
“Sophie would be my bet,” Daphne muses, sipping her champagne. “She’s the only one of us marrying a king instead of a mere prince, and I’m sure Leopold would declare war on Cellaria if she simply fluttered her eyelashes and asked it of him.”
Though she means the words as a joke, they’re followed by an uncomfortable silence. Sophronia looks away, her cheeks turning bright red, and Beatriz shoots Daphne a dirty look. Daphne feels as if she’s missed something, though it isn’t the first time. The three of them are close, but Beatriz and Sophronia have always been just a bit closer. Which is fine by Daphne—after all, she has always been the closest with their mother.
“Beatriz is the prettiest of you—she will have no trouble swinging the hearts of the Cellarians. Sophronia is the sweetest and she will win over the Temarinians with ease,” the empress said to Daphne just the day before, her voice like that of a general dispatching troops. The words deflated Daphne, until her mother leaned toward her, pressing her cool palm to Daphne’s cheek and blessing her with a rare full smile. “But you, my darling, are my sharpest weapon, so I need you in Friv. Bessemia needs you in Friv. If you’re going to take my place one day, you must prove you can fill it.”
Shame and pride go to war inside Daphne and she takes another sip of her champagne, hoping her sisters don’t notice. She supposes she can’t fault them for keeping things from her—she has her own share of secrets.
Logically, she knows her mother was right to ask her to keep that from them—she has never mentioned making one of them her heir, and knowing it will be Daphne will only stoke jealousies. Daphne doesn’t want that. Not tonight, especially.
She lets out a sigh, slumping farther into the sofa’s cushioned back. “At least your princes are handsome and healthy. One of the Frivian spies says Prince Cillian has been leeched so many times, his skin is covered in scabs. Another said he’s unlikely to live another month.”
“A month is plenty of time to marry him,” Beatriz points out. “If anything, it should make your job much easier. I can’t imagine he’ll get in your way, and Friv is such a young country as it is, it will be easy to take advantage of the chaos surrounding the death of the only heir to the throne. Maybe you’ll be the first one of us home.”
“Hopefully,” Daphne says. “But I can’t believe I’m going to be stuck in cold, miserable Friv while you’re off relaxing on sunny Cellarian beaches and Sophie gets to attend those legendary Temarinian parties.”
“It’s not like we’re going to relax on beaches or enjoy parties, is it?” Sophronia reminds her, but Daphne waves the words away.
“Well, it will make for a better backdrop than snow, gray skies, and more snow,” she grumbles.
“No need for dramatics,” Beatriz says, rolling her eyes. “Besides, you have the easiest assignment of all of us. What do you have to do? Steal the king’s seal? Forge a few documents? Admit it, Daph.”
Daphne shakes her head. “You know Mama—I’m sure there will be more to it than that.”
“Stop,” Sophronia interrupts, her voice cracking. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s our birthday. Shouldn’t we at least make it about us and not her?”
Daphne and Beatriz exchange a loaded look, but Beatriz is the first to speak.
“Of course, Sophie,” she says. “Shall we toast?”
Sophronia considers it for a moment before raising her glass. “To seventeen,” she says.
Daphne laughs. “Oh, Soph, are you sloshed already? We’re sixteen.”
Sophronia shrugs. “I know that,” she says. “But sixteen is when we have to say goodbye. By seventeen, we’ll be back here again. Together.”
“To seventeen, then,” Beatriz echoes, raising her own glass.
“To seventeen,” Daphne adds, clinking her glass with theirs before the three of them gulp down the last of their champagne.
Sophronia leans back against the sofa cushions and closes her eyes, apparently satisfied. Beatriz takes Sophronia’s empty glass and sets it with hers on the floor, out of the way, before leaning back beside her, staring at the vaulted ceiling, where whirling arrangements of stars have been painted in glittering gold against a deep blue background.
“Like Mama always says,” Beatriz murmurs. “We’re three stars of the same constellation. Distance won’t change that.”
It’s a surprisingly emotional sentiment coming from Beatriz, but Daphne feels a bit sentimental herself right now, so she curls up beside her sisters, throwing her arm around both of their waists.
The tall, marble-faced clock in the room strikes midnight with a loud chime that echoes in Daphne’s ears, and she pushes her mother’s words from her mind and holds her sisters tight.
“Happy birthday,” she says, kissing each of their cheeks in turn and leaving behind smears of pale pink lip paint.
“Happy birthday,” they each reply, their voices weighed down with exhaustion. In seconds, they’re both asleep, their quiet, even breaths filling the air, but try as she might, Daphne can’t join them. Sleep doesn’t claim her until a sliver of dawn sun is peeking through the window.