She didn’t know what to do, and Marley, who had twisted her around, eventually jumped to her feet.
The child shouted as she ran towards Lucerne.
“Mister! Take me too! I want to ride with you too!”
Geo called out, but Marley didn’t even pretend to hear.
Seti grabbed a handful of Lucerne’s hair and shook her head.
“No, I want to ride!”
“You don’t have to do that! I want something else, that thing, floating and drifting!”
As if it weren’t difficult enough, Lucerne nodded, and a blue light enveloped Marley.
As her body floated in the air, she must have been surprised! Whoa! She laughed and made a lot of noise, but the child quickly adapted and played, pretending to swim and imitating funny animals.
While Geo looked at her excited brothers with a dazed expression, even Rie sneaked up to Lucerne.
The child lifted a twig as his body ascended and sang while spinning around as if conjuring him.
The children had a blast running around Lucerne.
The sight made the tip of her nose twitch.
Geo cautiously approached me and tightly grabbed my hand.
His small hands were wet with sweat.
What is it?”
“Uncle Lucerne, or rather, Your Majesty, Uncle… Is he a bad person?”
Hmm… It’s not an easy question to answer.
Sometimes Lucerne is good, and sometimes not.
I liked Lucerne and thought he was a good man, but he wasn’t kind to the guards who pierced my palms or to the many people he killed.
“Sometimes he is, and sometimes he isn’t.”
Lucerne shifted his gaze from the children circling around him and looked at Geo.
Geo squeezed my hand tightly.
“Then, Uncle… When is he bad, and when is he good?”
Lucerne tilted his head slightly, his gaze tranquil, and then glanced away from me.
“When Astia desires it.”
“Huh… When Astia wants it, Mom?”
“If Astia desires it, I will be crueler than hell, and if Astia desires it, she will be more merciful than God.”
Geo turned his gaze away from Lucerne and looked at me.
I met the child’s eyes and shook my head.
“Don’t worry, Geo.
I want Lucerne to be a kind and good person.”
“A kind, good person?”
Someone who doesn’t kill, shares what they have, and forgives.”
If Astia wants it, I won’t kill anyone from now on.
Geo’s grip on my fingertips loosened slightly.
“Even if you believe… Can I?”
“Mom trusts you.”
Geo nodded, his face showing less suspicion, though the fear in his eyes remained unchanged.
The child let go of my hand and ran towards Marley, who floated in the air, swimming towards her garden.
Rie and Seti followed suit, and silence fell around the tea table.
Lucerne made eye contact with me and gave a faint smile.
“Thank you, for promising not to kill anyone.”
Lucerne let out a light sigh and stroked his neck.
I couldn’t see anything from the outside, but was there something hidden beneath his clothes?
* * *
We had dinner and returned to our room.
Asilis and her attendants, who had been invisible during the day, waited on me.
I undressed and immersed myself in warm water.
The bathtub was filled with red rose petals, enveloping me as if I were being buried in roses.
“Ah, it’s warm.”
I stretched out in the bathtub, and the steam from the hot water filled the bathroom.
Recalling Lucerne, who had been touching his neck earlier in the day, she absentmindedly brushed her own neck.
Why did Lucerne behave like that? Did something bother him? Should I ask about it later? And if I do, will he give me an honest answer?
It was Asilis’s voice that interrupted her thoughts.
“Forgive me, Lady Astia!”
Startled, I raised my body from the bathtub.
Asilis fell trembling on the wet floor next to the bathtub.
Why this sudden plea for forgiveness?
“Hey, why are you doing this all of a sudden?”
Blinking her eyes in confusion, the other handmaids who were by her side also lay down next to Asilis, their faces filled with fear.
“We humbly seek your forgiveness for our disrespectful words and actions.
We were foolish.”
Oh, now I remember.
Those girls said some rather rude things to me.
The last time I mentioned being jealous of Lucerne loving me, they coughed and scolded.
Or perhaps they had finally realized that he truly loved me?
I let out a deep sigh and leaned against the bathtub.
“Do you now understand that it was wrong?”
“I’m sorry, truly sorry, Lady Astia!”
“Please forgive our impoliteness.
In the future, we will be cautious and diligent to prevent such incidents from happening again, and we will serve you with utmost dedication, Lady Astia.”
They were begging for forgiveness, their sobs and the bent backs of the women falling to their knees catching my attention.
I was about to say something when something unusual caught my eye.
The skin under the thin, white garments clinging to the maids’ bodies, moistened by the steam, was red.
What was this?
Since arriving at the imperial castle, the ladies-in-waiting attended to my baths daily, yet I had never seen such red marks before.
…Perhaps it’s not what I think.
I furrowed my brow, feeling a sense of concern.
“Asilis, look up at me.”
Asilis, trembling with fear, barely raised her head.
The red marks were clearly visible beneath the flowing hem of her dress.
It seemed my suspicions were correct.
I bit my lip and asked softly,
“Have you… Have you been beaten?”
Asilis hastily straightened her clothing and lowered her head.
Her silence confirmed my suspicion—she had been subjected to violence.
So, he promised me not to kill, yet he resorted to beating them?
Did he lie during our conversation? I despised Asilis and her ladies-in-waiting for their disrespectful words, but I never wished for them to endure physical punishment.
A few words should have been enough.
Because it hurts.
I knew firsthand how terrifying and painful it could be to be beaten without the ability to resist.
Even if it was someone I disliked, I didn’t want them to experience such pain.
That kind of fear needed to be eradicated from the world.
The ladies-in-waiting remained frozen, trembling before me.
In an attempt to soothe them, I spoke again, this time with care.
“I have forgiven you, so it’s over now.
Get up, and go, thank you, Asilis.”
Asilis struggled to rise to her feet, and the other maids quietly followed suit.
Her movements, usually graceful, seemed awkward and her posture stooped, perhaps due to her illness.
Feeling sympathy for her, I clicked my tongue, causing all three of them to startle with the same expression.
As Asilis attempted to kneel again, I quickly gestured for her to stop.
“It will cause you pain, but please don’t kneel.”
“Thank you very much for your kind understanding.
We will strive to serve you in Santuris without causing any inconvenience.”
I sighed as I watched Asilis politely bow her head.
It made me wonder how the act of punishment could suddenly bring about such a change in their attitude.
However, I will retire to rest today as I am feeling unwell.”
“No, we must attend to our duties.
I will do my best to serve you properly, now that I have failed to do so previously.”
“I will bathe, dress, and retire by myself.
Wearing pajamas is not as challenging as donning daytime dresses.
Listen to me.
You won’t take good care of me if your wounds don’t heal quickly.”
“That cannot be.”
In this world, if you don’t make a big fuss, it won’t be as significant as you may think.
I am quite capable of bathing and drying my own hair.
Now, hurry up.
Are you going to order me?”
You never listen.
I curled up in the bathtub, pretending to whimper.
“The weather is cool, and I desire some time alone.
I really dislike having someone beside me when I bath.
It’s distressing to see that even those who claim they will serve me well won’t listen to my requests… This is the imperial palace, Santuris, and it truly feels like a prison.”
Upon hearing my words, Asilis’ face turned pale.
She became flustered and started to stammer.
“Are you saying that we are being a hindrance?”
“But Your Majesty instructed us to serve Lady Astia without causing any inconvenience.”
“I am feeling very uncomfortable right now.
Very much so! Ah, I just want to be alone!”
Asilis quickly bowed and her hurried movement caused her to groan and wince, as if the pain had intensified.
“Please, excuse us.
We will withdraw then.
If you encounter any inconvenience, please don’t hesitate to ring the bathroom bell.”
“Do take it with you, I don’t want anyone to come.”
Asilis and her maids left, but they didn’t take the servant with them.
I shouted after the ladies-in-waiting, their backs flushed, as they rushed out of the bathroom.
“Make sure to visit the imperial doctor! It should heal properly by tomorrow! If it still hurts tomorrow, return early!”
I didn’t know if my voice reached them.
Well, they were not children but ladies, so if they fell ill, they would seek treatment on their own.
I leaned back in the bathtub, lifted one of my legs out of the water, and raised it in the air.
My legs, adorned with red petals, felt as heavy as my heart.
The red marks on the maid’s backs bothered me.
When would Lucerne return from his duties? Until then, I planned to enjoy a leisurely bath and gather my thoughts to speak with him.
Once the bathwater became lukewarm, I stepped out of the bathtub, changed my clothes, and roughly dried my hair.
I couldn’t dry it as thoroughly as my ladies-in-waiting did, but even during my time as Hyerim, I simply brushed off the water and let it air dry while reading web novels, so it didn’t bother me too much.
When I entered the drawing room, Lucerne arrived just in time.
You’ve been working hard until late at night.”
“Astia, you haven’t slept yet.”
“Yes, there’s something I want to discuss, so I stayed up.
Do you have a moment?”
Instead of answering, Lucerne looked at me and furrowed her brow.
“You didn’t dry your hair.
Was there a lack of whipping?”
I furrowed my brow as well.
Moreover, the beating was indeed true.
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