To me, an apple tree simply represents the memory of apples falling to the floor because of my aunt.
I couldn’t be completely honest, but it didn’t hold any significant meaning beyond that.
“Why are you asking about this?” I inquired, curious about Lucerne’s line of questioning.
“It’s just my speculation, but I don’t believe an apple tree is merely a tree that produces your favorite fruit.
If it were that simple, I wouldn’t have had that reaction when I saw a tree without apples,” Lucerne explained, his voice tinged with a hint of sadness.
After a brief pause, he continued, sharing his thoughts.
“When I look at an apple tree… it feels like someone is gripping my chest.
Sometimes, I feel suffocated to the point of thinking I might die.
At first, I thought it was a spell someone had cast to assassinate me.”
Lucerne finished speaking and pressed his hand against his left breast, as if trying to alleviate the pain he felt in his heart.
The sight of me sitting in silence, staring at the apple tree, was causing him distress.
What should I say? Should I apologize for unintentionally hurting him by hiding something from me? But I didn’t want to add further embarrassment to the kind-hearted Lucerne.
I didn’t want to force him to be transparent while concealing something significant.
Lowering my gaze, I half-truthfully offered an explanation.
I didn’t mean to cause you heartache.
When I was younger, I planted apple seeds in pots and imagined how wonderful it would be if the apples grew abundantly.
Seeing the apple tree reminded me of those memories, and it must have made me melancholic.”
As I spoke, the atmosphere at the table grew quiet.
The only sounds audible were the distant laughter of children, the chirping of birds, and the gentle rustling of leaves in the wind.
There was a rustling sound as Lucerne stood up from his seat.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Prepare a young apple tree and apple seeds as soon as possible.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Caleb responded, devoid of doubt or curiosity.
It was as if he already knew that Lucerne would take such action.
My throat tightened, and my body trembled upon hearing Lucerne’s command to prepare the young apple trees and seeds.
He truly was willing to fulfill any desire of mine.
Even though it was a story I brought up as an excuse to conceal the truth.
Lucerne’s iridescent eyes remained calm and bright.
“I will make your wish come true, perhaps it will bring you some peace of mind,” he reassured me.
“Lucerne… it’s alright if you don’t go through all that trouble,” I said, my voice filled with concern.
“You don’t have to do it.
It’s not that difficult.”
My nose twitched, and my face grew hot.
Will Lucerne see my face turning red too? I felt embarrassed.
Lucerne responded nonchalantly, “Dipeume, it seems Astia has a fever.
Check her condition once again.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Dipeume replied casually, giving me a smile.
When Lucerne shot him a stern look, he coughed and forced the corners of his mouth downward.
Oh goodness, was my face really so red that even Dipeume noticed? Embarrassment washed over me, causing my face to grow even redder.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Lucerne didn’t comment on the color of my face.
He simply stated, “I’ll let you continue as usual.
I’ll just head back.”
“Yes, of course,” I replied, reaching out and grabbing the hem of Lucerne’s clothing.
I couldn’t understand why he always disappeared before I could even finish saying goodbye.
Or maybe I was just slow in initiating the farewell?
Well, it didn’t matter.
What was important was that I could deliver my message without further delay.
With Lucerne’s stoic kindness and consideration in mind, I smiled brightly.
“Thank you for caring.
I didn’t even think about it, but I’m really grateful.”
With just a few words, Lucerne turned around and started to move away.
He was adorable.
Even his slightly reddened ears and his slow gait were adorable.
The feelings of resentment and frustration seemed to dissipate somewhere, and my heart and fingertips tingled as if electrified.
* * *
“Now, let’s start digging the holes.
That afternoon, a corner of the garden was bustling with activity.
The children and I changed into comfortable clothes and began digging the soil in our designated spots.
The children used magic, while I diligently dug with a small shovel.
We quickly became covered in dirt.
Lucerne, who had been watching us with the townspeople, asked,
“Do you really have to dig it yourself?”
“Yes! This is all about fun and creating memories.
“Yeah! It’s fun!”
“Yeah! Dig, dig!”
“Dig, dig, dig! I’m going to be first!”
“Mom, I finished digging all the holes.”
“Wow, already? Geo did it first?”
Geo, who had created round and beautiful holes using magic, smiled proudly.
Marley, who was blowing the dirt away with the wind, became frustrated for missing out on being first and her face pouted heavily.
She forcefully blew the wind, causing saliva mixed with her breath to splatter onto Rie, who was nearby throwing water puddles.
The two children forgot their original purpose and started arguing.
“Hey! You little brat! Don’t spit on me! It’s disgusting!”
“Shut up, Rie! I’m busy right now! If you keep talking, I’ll spit on you!”
Seti, who was squatting next to me, stirring the dirt with a stick, whined.
“Heeeng, I’m growing tired.
Can’t we stop?”
“Is it not going well, Seti?”
“Mom will quickly finish this and help you.
Just wait a little longer.”
“Yaaah! I won’t let you get away!”
“Eek! My skirt is flying!”
Marley and Rie abandoned their holes and ran around the garden, blowing wind and water, while Geo took over and made holes for his siblings.
Seti, who said she would wait for me to dig, started whining again.
“Adoo, adoo, dig! Bye-bye, dig!”
Seti, should I dig yours first?”
“Ung! Dig Seti’s!”
As I was about to stand up and approach Seti, a large shadow cast over me.
Lucerne, who had approached without me noticing, gently pressed my shoulder.
“I’ll do it.”
“Isn’t this work for your sake? I don’t want to let you be disturbed.”
“Ah… Then, I’ll ask for your help.”
Although Geo’s face turned pale and he abruptly stopped his magic, Seti, the instigator, smiled mischievously and beckoned Lucerne.
“Uncle, come here!”
As Seti tugged on Lucerne’s clothes, Geo stumbled back and let out a scream.
“S-S-Seti! Be careful! No!”
With large green eyes filled with curiosity, Lucerne stared intently at Seti.
Lucerne gave a brief answer to the child’s question.
Sitting down in front of the dirt that had turned black due to the fireball, Seti explained his request to Lucerne.
“Make it as round as this.”
“This much, round, is that right?”
In response to Seti’s lively reaction, Geo’s face turned pale blue, and I couldn’t help but burst into laughter.
However, Lucerne didn’t show a single muscle twitch on his face.
After briefly glancing at the hole Geo had made, Lucerne reached out his hand.
Geo quickly rushed over and tightly embraced Seti, as if trying to protect him, while Seti pouted and wriggled, seemingly annoyed by his older brother’s interference.
Lucerne’s fingertip lightly passed over the area pointed out by Seti.
The dirt that had filled the ground turned into dust and slowly rose into the air, leaving behind a perfectly round and precise hole in the ground.
Seti chuckled happily, and Geo widened his eyes in awe.
The uncle is amazing!”
“Wow… Such a beautiful hole can be created… Incredible…”
“Is it good?”
“Yes! Great job.
After leaving Geo’s embrace, Seti patted Lucerne’s buttocks with a patting motion, just like when Rie and Geo praised him.
A sprinkling of white dust settled on his clean attire.
This time, the faces of the onlookers behind them turned pale.
They had worried that Seti’s body might be torn apart vertically or horizontally, but Lucerne didn’t harm him.
He simply allowed Seti to tap him as much as he wanted, without any sign of displeasure.
Seti let go of Lucerne and happily hopped into the hole with a spring in his step.
A smile involuntarily formed on my lips.
“Thank you, your magic is really useful.”
I thought Lucerne would immediately return to his original position, but he remained still as if rooted to the spot.
His gaze followed Seti, who was giggling and bursting with joy.
I tilted my head.
“Perhaps he might enjoy it even more this way.”
Murmuring to himself, Lucerne reached out his hand again.
The dirt piled up beside the hole gathered and transformed into a large rabbit shape.
Seti’s eyes sparkled, and he quickly climbed onto the back of the rabbit.
“Wow! A rabbit! Hop hop, it’s a rabbit!”
“Oh, me too! Uncle, make one for me! I want a tiger!”
“Me too! Please make a giraffe for me!”
Marley and Rie, who were running around the garden, approached and circled around Seti, who was riding the rabbit.
They shouted with excitement.
Without a response, Lucerne flicked his finger, and several more animal figurines appeared next to the rabbit.
The children were thrilled.
“Yay! This is so much fun!”
“Go, tiger! Super Marley is on the move!”
“Hop hop, chase the rabbit!”
Amidst the excitement of the younger siblings, Geo stood there, feeling lost.
Beside Geo, Lucerne created a few more large animal figurines and then finally turned his body to return to his original position.
Geo touched the face of the duck figurine placed next to him and murmured,
“Uncle Lucerne… Is this the person they call the tyrant emperor…?”
Seti tugged on the rabbit’s ear and burst into laughter.
And then extended all five fingers to Lucerne.
“Uncle, you’re the best!”
“Yeah! Uncle is the greatest!”
Marley stood tall on top of the lion’s head and reached out both thumbs to Lucerne, while Rie quickly descended from the animal doll and elegantly held her dusty dress while bending her knees.
Finally, Geo approached Lucerne hesitantly.
The child looked up at the man, who was much taller than him and confessed,
“Um, um… Sir, thank you.”
Lucerne’s previously stiff mouth curled up.
He looked at me with a pleading expression, and I, like Marley, extended my thumb towards him.
Lucerne’s opal-colored eyes shimmered brilliantly.
A little while later, a small apple tree was brought by the gardeners and placed into the hole.
The children and I filled the hole, tamped the soil, and watered it while laughing.
Every scene seemed to be in slow motion, yet time passed quickly.
“Seed, seed, we planted the seed.
Firmly, firmly, we watered it.
One night, two nights, ah, ah, ah.”
I sang the nursery rhyme we learned at kindergarten while twirling around the tree.
At first, the children blinked as if they didn’t know the song, but soon they joined me in humming along.
“Seed, seed, seed.
Firmly, firmly, firmly.
Ah, ah, ah.”
“Sprout, sprout, sprout.
Again, again, it grows.
It was a blessed moment.
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