Chapter One

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On the other side of this threshold, a kingdom awaits to witness my arranged betrothal to my best friend and the gifting of a crown I wasn't born to wear. I take a deep breath, keeping my eyes trained on the intricate carving of the cathedral's wooden doors. My fingertips trace the elaborate silver vines handstitched into the cornflower fabric of my dress, and my mind races with images of everything that could go wrong today.

A gust of wind billows up my back, and I snap my head around. Salone, my newly appointed assistant and younger sister, fans out the train of my dress. With a wide smile consuming her pale, freckled face, she stands and runs her thumbs lightly over my cheeks. She fussed over my makeup for hours, ensuring it complements my sun-kissed complexion and brown eyes. 

"You're all set, Your Grace," she says, wrapping a golden-brown tendril of my hair around her finger and letting it go.

"She is almost ready," counters a deep commanding voice.

Salone bends into a curtsy, and I follow suit with a grace that some would consider magical in my snuggly fitted dress. "Your Majesty," I say.

The king holds out his arm, and I loop mine inside, meeting the familiar buzz of his power. It flows from the soles of my feet and up my spine like an aftershock.

"You look spectacular," he says, pressing his lips to my cheek.

"As do you." I brush my palm over the soft fabric of his jacket sleeve, admiring the beautiful details of the silver stitching shimmering against a background of maroon. The design of his royal uniform complements his burly frame and tawny skin, but it's the pointed crown encrusted with rubies that demands my attention. He doesn't wear it often, but when he does, there is no mistaking that Micah LeFur is the reigning sovereign of the Lucent kingdom.

And soon, I too will wear a crown to proclaim my status among my people.

"I know this is not how you pictured this day, Raelle."

I glance at Micah from the corners of my eyes and say, "No, it's not."

"He would be proud of you. Your match with Leif is a good one, and you have handled the last year with a dignity comparable to his own."

My stomach stirs and I fight to keep the tears at bay. I kept busy all day, pushing aside even the slightest thought of my father. This was a moment that he and I spoke about and knew we would share together. My anointment will be a far cry from what either of us pictured.   

"When I was a little girl, I'd loop my arm with his just like this," I squeeze the king's forearm, "and pretend it was this very moment. I don't know if I can do this without him."

Micah turns on the heels of his shiny boots, and compassion radiates from his green eyes. I may not have my father at my side, but I have the next best thing—his best friend. "I believe in you and chose you because the Statera runs strong within you."

I tilt my head to the side and quirk my lips. "My gift is dormant; I'm just a Cyffred."

"The first Cyffred queen, the unifier. The Divine Sibyl foretold your reign just as they did mine and my sister's. You will unite the kingdoms and reverse the damage caused by my line. Today, you will define yourself as our future—a just ruler who leads with her heart and soul and not the power she wields."

Micah's words seep with conviction, yet I question their truth. My godfather has counseled me to be his heir since I was three years old, but I feel unprepared. He has ruled Lucent with such grace, authority, and substantial power, but that doesn't stop the loss of our people to the Stigian. Cyffred and Khiros alike cannot resist the lure of power and riches found beyond our borders. Will the promise of equality and freedom under my rule be enough when even he couldn't bring about peace?

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