It had been seventeen years since the master of Moz left his province venturing forth into the farthest regions of Terestria in search of a redemption he would not find.
The morning was crisp and splendent as the spring brought in what appeared to be an early summer. The sunlight radiated down toward the grand Sanoon Manor in the city’s northern district, drifting in softly through an immense stained glass window and into a sanctuary where, head bowed and beautiful, a girl of eighteen prayed within its brilliance. The girl was Lucia Sanoon, the sole heir and high maiden of Moz, daughter of the now-reigning Lady Ara who had taken the province after her husband, Master Stello, had undertaken a mission of peace to the north. This was her home, a mansion of white marble and glass. Pillars and engaged columns supported a vast basilica connecting the front of the manor to a balcony that was elevated by a wide staircase at its far end.
Lucia stood proudly before the altar with her eyes closed. She was shrouded in layers of golden and white cloth that flowed elegantly over her slender body. The long, loose sleeves of her blouse dangled at her elbows as her arms rose out from them. Her hands met at her chest, clenching together as she prayed. Her hair fell past her shoulders to just above her waist like waves of wholesome honey smelling of a light rose perfume.
No one could deny her charm, for she was the most beautiful maiden to ever grace the halls of Sanoon Manor. Her large eyes had been shaped with grace, narrowing at their corners like autumn almonds, and her lips were sculpted with such a serene purity that her smile brought joy to all who witnessed it. She was gently kissed by the heaven’s light, giving her fair complexion a soft olive tone, as it often showed on the brightest of days. There was innocence in the way she stood, something untainted and untouched, but still bold and as blessed as could be. And in her hair was a band, well crafted, yet so delicate that it seemed to hover like a halo over her head—dove white, with feathers shaped onto the silver lining of its exterior. She wore a short skirt high above her knee-length boots, decorated in the traditional Mozian style with cross-stitched gold lacing that complemented the bow tied at the back of her waist.
She opened her eyes and looked at the window, fascinated by its spiraling colored panels with the familiar gold and violet as well as magenta and sky blue. Like always, this comforted her—bathing in the light. Lucia lowered her golden eyes as if to begin another prayer when she was startled by the call of her name.
She saw no one, but knew well to respond quickly. She rolled her eyes annoyed by this sudden intrusion on her thoughts. The tiresome expectations of her mother wore Lucia down sometimes. However, her mother had always told her that, like all things, even faith must be exercised. There was a reason for everything. Duty above all else. Lucia reached out to the altar toward a piece of parchment. With a quill, she scribbled something down before shouting, “Coming!”
She grasped the sheet and hurried into a wide hallway, crossing a narrow bridge and making her way down a staircase leading to the lower levels of the mansion. The ceiling above her was covered with frescoes containing representations of the divine spirits and creators of the world—the forces of light and darkness. Simple yet mighty, these all-powerful elements of matter and spirit cultivated the existence of time and space, allowing life to thrive. With light came the heavens and all living things, while with darkness came the earth and the essence of mortality itself: death.
These were their guardians, their creators, and were very much like gods—or so she thought. Inscribed in the ancient texts of the Sanoon library were tomes honoring the creation of the forces themselves, but nothing that described their purpose in creating the world Lucia lived in. That knowledge was thought to have long since been lost with time.
She took the stairs to the front of her home, a cathedral within a garden of neatly trimmed hedges and marble statues. Lucia felt faint, fatigued by her anxiety. What could Mother want this time? The maiden quickened her step, worrying as she often did and bolting past her mother’s favorite mural, a mosaic depicting an alluring seraph emerging from golden light. At the tips of its feathered white wings, strips of bright opal cascaded like water flowing to the base of its frame.
Waiting for her, dressed in gray as usual, was Amelia, her loyal and devoted maid whom she had known for as long as she could remember—always the same and as firm and frozen as the marble around them. For years, Amelia had been the most respected servant within the manor and had fulfilled her role as Lucia’s second mother, caretaker, and tutor. Amelia had also taken her place as Lady Ara’s right-hand advisor and best friend. Amelia’s wisdom was never to be mistaken. Lucia could not think of a moment when she had given her faulty advice.
Amelia bowed her head as Lucia approached with graceful steps, her own anticipation building, making Lucia wary of what she was walking into. She carried a deep intuition but ignored it.
“Good day, High Maiden. Your mother has requested to see you.”
Lucia smiled and tipped her head forward in response. Her headband glistened beneath the light of the high windows. “Thank you, Amelia. Where is she?”
Amelia chuckled before replying with a wide grin. “Your father’s study.”
Lucia gave a puzzled look. “But that place has been locked for ages. I don’t think it’s been opened since Father left.” She shrugged, brushing her cheek to keep her hair from falling into her face. “I recall trying to get in as a child, but I never could manage to.”
“Of course, but your mother does have the key.”
“Right. Indeed, she does,” Lucia mumbled.
Amelia tilted her head and crossed her arms as she stared at the maiden with suspicion. “Where were you?”
“Ah…” Lucia parted her lips, tossing back her hair and pointing a finger behind her. “The sanctuary. I was writing.”
“Another song, I hope. Your hymns always prove to be the holiest, bringing about the most bountiful of harvests.” Amelia smiled again and bowed before patting Lucia’s shoulder. “Well take care. Your mother is waiting for you. If you need me, I’ll be tending to the garden.”
“Goodbye, Amelia.” Lucia widened her lips before waving and bowing her head. She rushed back to the stairs and took the flight leading to the manor’s west wing.
The study was guarded by two pompous, ruby-colored doors each with its own golden handle. Lucia gave a small push. The rush of stagnant air caught in her hair as her eyes searched inside. She crept into a neatly shelved room. Canvases adorned the walls sheltered with secrets. The colors were so heated and vibrant, displaying a variety of landscapes within each frame. As she moved forward, she noticed how each painting waned becoming so different than the one before it. The style of each subsequent painting became gloomier and darker until, at the edge of the study, a frame was filled with only black and white strokes—incomplete, as if the artist never returned to finish it.
The shelves held many books, scrolls, and parchments all covered in dust and worn by years of lying dormant. As Lucia continued on, the temperature seemingly dropped. A chill enveloped her, coiling about and bringing her goosebumps. Her nerves shook in this place. It was as if the room was haunted by a ghost she could not see, someone or something she did not know.
She closed her eyes and released a slow breath, trying to control her emotions. She did not like how she could sense the world changing around her within the fabric of time itself. It was incredibly intoxicating as reality shifted. She could feel her future itself now heading toward a different path.
Since childhood, Lucia had presented an unmistakable intuition so significant that it frightened those who knew her. Her nightmares mirrored disasters that would strike the everyday lives of her people, such as storms and droughts or even riots that would break out within Southern Moz from time to time. Her mother called it a “gift of the light,” a reward for her unbreakable faith granted only to the chosen. Lucia’s judgment was pristine—a blessing and, at times, a curse.
Now, it was as if she knew too much. She sensed something looming—a calm before the storm. This premonition held something so grim in its feeling. Lifeless and cold, so cruel and hateful it was terrifying. Lucia had felt it as soon as she made her way into the study. It moved into her heart as if it was coming home to stay. Things from here on out, she realized in that moment, would never be the same.
Across the study, her mother stood waiting, staring out the window with her fingers pressed against the glass. She turned to her daughter, her face glowing with excitement. But her eyes reflected a distinct distance within them. The lady’s gown was crimson, her favorite color, and fit loosely over her wrists. Her hands clenched something shimmering. “Lucy, aren’t they lovely?” She perked up as she looked at the paintings around them.
Lucia smiled, her eyes focusing again on her mother’s hands. Within them was a ball of silver silk cloth. It was odd. Her eyes drew to it immediately, almost as if it was the cause of the commotion happening in her mind. Lucia shook it off. “Absolutely,” she responded politely, covering up her sudden chill and trying to ease it asleep. She simpered, hoping it would distract her mother from her sudden tension.
“ Lucia…” Ara paused, moving her gaze to the canvases surrounding them. She breathed a sigh before saying, “This place has been locked for seventeen years.”
“I know,” Lucia said, looking around. “This was Father’s study.”
“Yes.” Ara sighed again at the memory. “Seventeen years ago on this day, your father left us. It was a dismal day for our family. I know growing up without your father has been especially tough on you, but he knew the day would come when you would learn to rule. You have grown since then. You are now of age.”
“I suppose I have,” Lucia said, looking away from her mother’s mulling gaze. She felt a slight bit sarcastic. All of this sounded so familiar. She had only been eighteen for half a year, but why was she here? Why was she now hearing the story she’d heard over and over before, here in the depths of a study that had lain in silence for so long? Why must she be here where he lived then?
For years, the mere idea of her father leaving tore at her, but not without creating something stronger in the process. For some time she could hardly bear the thought of it—her father deserting her family. Tears would form at his mention, and she would withdraw into a state of self-loathing. It was, at one point in time, the easiest way to break her down. But since she had grown, Lucia had finally become distant and numb to the memory. She often hated her mother for not truly understanding that.
Still, the idea of not knowing her father troubled her. Yet, it was in not knowing where she found a particular sense of freedom, despite not having much of it. She could define herself within the boundaries of her own self-expectations, and imagine a life for herself outside of what her mother wanted. That was only half of who she was. The other half was left to interpretation, free for her to choose.
But now, in her father’s long-dormant study, she questioned the freedom she had in composing her own story. Here, a part of who she was awakened as she peered into the paintings and within herself. Lucia recognized a passion for art, something she did not share with her mother who was more or less consumed by the duty and expectation of their nobility, favoring practicality over desire. Yet here, something deeper finally found its way to the surface.
Scattered along the walls was the sensitivity her mother so boldly opposed. Lucia wondered if this was because of him, this man she did not know. Did he leave these qualities embedded inside her? Despite how her mother felt, Lucia longed to be independent of her status in Moz and truly come into her own, leading a life she wanted. Being high maiden meant she was to be bright and dignified, to portray herself with honor and nothing less. So this bothered her, the inability to make her life what she wished.
Sometimes, she could imagine herself doing something far different, often dreaming of places she had never seen and wondering if they truly existed. Why care for thousands of people who knew nothing of what she valued? And what of their own ideals, their own dreams and agendas? How could she rule them all? There was no way for her to know all of their needs and intentions. From what she knew, she was hardly ready. Age did not change that, no matter what her mother said.
“Your father left something for you those many years ago. And now it’s time for you to have it, to wear as you rule.” Ara held out the cloth, her pale hands inching toward Lucia’s.
Lucia accepted it from her mother, examined it, and gingerly pulled a chain from the cloth. She gasped as she traced the silver lining with her finger, feeling the cold of its touch transfer and, oddly enough, fill her warmly. “He left this for me?” she asked in disbelief, gazing at the silver that was now shimmering into her eyes.
Ara nodded. “It resembles your beauty.” She touched Lucia’s shoulder softly as she took the winged pendant and wrapped it around Lucia’s neck. “It’s elegant, isn’t it? As if it was made just for you.”
“I’m honored,” Lucia said as she looked up to Ara, who was beaming more than before.
“I suppose you’ll be wearing this to the banquet tomorrow night?” The lady stared deeply into the pendant as she asked.
“A banquet?” Lucia turned to her mother, confused but not completely surprised. It was just like her mother to stage another celebration to get into the good graces of the people. “What for?”
“Why, I thought we’d commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the war’s end. Moz has been through so much, and as the governors of this province we have an obligation to our people to show them that prosperity does exist.”
Lucia nodded softly as her mother kissed her head. Gently, she receded.
“What’s this?” Ara asked, spotting the scroll in Lucia’s hand.
“It’s nothing,” said Lucia, casting it aside. “Another prayer I’ve been writing. A hymn for the light.”
Lady Ara was intrigued. “Oh really? Can I hear it?”
Lucia blushed. “I couldn’t. Not right now.” She bit her lip and then smirked. “Although, I do think it’s really good. My best yet.”
Ara’s eyes narrowed. “I would like to ask something of you.”
“That glimmer I just saw. That sparkle in your eye.” Ara placed a finger to her chin for a moment as the thought was fresh. “I want to ask you for your courage. Being the high maiden is by no means easy. Being lady can nearly break me at times. Lucia, I am aware of its burden, and I know that it just being the two of us has left you without an understanding of your true abilities. But you must be confident.”
Lucia’s confusion magnified further as her thoughts shifted toward the unexpected. “What do you mean?”
“Lucia, I have total faith in you as my heir, and you have portrayed yourself with elegance, beauty, and grace. I believe, now, that you are ready to show the province and the world what you really are inside. After all, it is your birthright.” Ara smiled, watching her daughter’s eyes sparkle above the diamond wings around her neck. “At the banquet tomorrow night, I would like you to share one of your hymns with the people of Moz, and let it be their anthem—a symbol of growth, prosperity, and hope. Let it be a reminder of what is good in the world. As you’re the legitimate heir to the throne of Sanoon, your song will surely move and inspire them. It will be historic. Why not let their voices join you?”
“You want me to sing at the banquet?” Lucia asked, her voice nearly cracking. “To everyone?”
“Yes, to your people.” Ara nodded. She raised a finger. “But I want you to be yourself. Don’t worry about what they will think of you, my dear. You are beautiful and good inside. I’m certain that you’ll gain the people’s affection, and most of all their trust.”
Lucia’s heart fluttered. Was her mother really saying this to her? Was she really telling her that this was time to be herself, and to step up and take her true place as heir? Lucia couldn’t contain her excitement, nor could she decipher it from the nervousness that consumed her. She would sing during her first address. “You really think I can do it? Bring the nation together with my song?”
“Of course. I can sense it within you, Lucy—an aspiration to lead. You will do great things for Terestria.”
Lucia looked away, clenching the scroll in her hand. The moment she walked through those ruby doors, her life would change. She felt strange trying to imagine herself in front of all those people, her people—as the center of their world, her voice theirs. Trusting her mother, and even deep down wanting it herself, she accepted. “Thank you, Mother. I won’t fail you. I’ll make this something the people will remember.”
Ara laughed and clapped her hands together. “I’m so happy that you’re excited. Praise the light.” She took a deep breath and looked back to Lucia, who was caressing the wings of the pendant with the tips of her middle and forefinger. “Don’t worry, dear. This is for the best.”
“Yes, Mother. Thank you.”
Lucia followed her mother out of the study and, parting, walked through the halls with the weight of her pendant accentuating her gait. The color of the maroon carpet rose up through it, making it twinkle a pale magenta in the light. It was alluring with its changing refractions. She pondered whether or not her father imagined her wearing it, as if he would have known who she’d grow to be. She tried to shift her mind, avoiding the thought as she always did. She had never known him, and to her he was just a ghost—a haunting and in many ways unwanted presence that disrupted her world. To her he was hopeless, a lost cause. He would never return. Lucia knew this—her intuition told her so.
But now, she had this opportunity to take control and show the people of Moz that she loved the very person she constantly hid from them. It would be her time to rise and unify the people to a cause more familiar than her own. Her mother was right. There was something within her she could not understand just yet, a power she had yet to tap into. The light had chosen her for this purpose, to rule and bring balance to the realms. The moment the pendant had wrapped around her neck, she felt the essence of her reality transform, determining her future. Lucia was unique, and now she was bestowed with this mission, to use her words and her song to move her people into a new age.
However, something inside her still doubted. Something about this seemed too good; as if it were a dream, a fantasy. She had felt it in her father’s study and had not forgotten how it clung to her. That gripping intuition still hovered in the currents. Although this was to be a banquet to honor the values of prosperity, Lucia sensed disaster in the midst. Her thoughts whispered chaos all from within the calm of a heavy storm.
Dutybound: Chapter 1