“Yawn, I’m sleepy.
Mom, what’s going on in the morning?”
“It’s not yet time for the warriors to mobilize.”
“Mom, did you sleep well?”
“Go back to sleep, Seti…”
The children came in, all sleepy and sprawled on the plush chairs and sofas.
Not knowing what was happening, I couldn’t even greet them properly.
Caleb entered the reception room, closed the door, and politely greeted me.
“Good morning, Lady Astia.
His Majesty has requested that you take care of the children in San Turis for a while.”
“The children at the Imperial Palace? And what about Lucerne?”
“He will be staying in another palace for the time being.”
“I’m not sure.”
Caleb shrugged, showing little curiosity.
“It’s not important what he thinks.
There must be a reason for it.
I am just following his orders.”
If he didn’t want to face me, he could have just chased me away.
Why did he consider my well-being and arrange for me to stay with the children while he vacated the Imperial Palace? He didn’t give me a chance to deeply ponder as Caleb asked again.
“What should we do? His Majesty said you could stay with the children in your bedroom or use the Emperor’s bedroom.”
Surprised, I quickly extended my hand.
Lucerne should use his own bedroom.
The children will sleep in my bedroom.
Please prepare the bedding.”
Caleb calmly replied and left the reception room.
A little later, the servants, including Asilis, appeared with thick blankets and a few small beds.
We spread a bed on one side of my bedroom and covered it with a blanket.
The luxurious bedroom interior became a mess, but I didn’t feel bad about it.
After the servants left, I woke up the sleeping children in the reception room.
“Geo, Marley, Rie, Seti, wake up.
Let’s go to the rooms and sleep.”
Marley made strange sounds as she sleep-talked, and Caleb complained that he wanted to sleep more.
Only Geo and Rie blinked their eyes and woke up.
Rie, with half-closed eyes, looked around.
“Mom? What are we doing now?”
Lucerne said you should stay here with Mom for a while.
He brought a bed to Mom’s room, so let’s sleep there.”
Let’s go, Bunny Bunny Ocean.
Yawning, Rie hugged me once and then walked unsteadily to the second bed among the four beds that were laid out.
Geo, who had been watching our conversation, woke up Marley and Seti.
“Marley, Seti, wake up.
We need to go to the rooms and sleep.”
“Mmm, it’s noisy.
Seti wants to sleep more.”
“Nyam-nyam, wake me up when it’s mealtime.
I want chocolate bread for breakfast.”
Marley, still half-asleep, searched for chocolate bread and stumbled upon it.
Seti, not fully awake, kicked Marley’s bottom with his foot.
“No! I don’t want to! It’s mine!”
Marley and Seti, who couldn’t even open their eyes, argued over an imaginary chocolate bread.
Geo looked at me with a puzzled expression, and I forgot about the situation I was in and giggled.
“Geo, can you move Seti a bit? I’ll move Marley.”
Geo carefully picked up little Seti and placed him in the bedroom, on the rightmost, fourth bed.
As I tried to place Marley between Rie and Seti on the third bed, Geo shook his head.
“Mom, Marley has a bad habit of rolling around in her sleep, so she should sleep at the edge.”
That way, Marley, Rie, Geo, and Seti all lay down on their respective beds.
Rie cuddled her rabbit doll and made adorable murmuring sounds, while Marley kicked off the blanket I had covered her with.
Seti, with great effort, even threw away his beloved rabbit doll and stretched out on the bed.
After picking up Seti’s dropped rabbit doll and covering Marley with the blanket again, I turned around only to find Seti’s rabbit doll on the floor once more.
Geo stopped me from picking up the doll.
“Don’t worry about the doll falling again.”
Saying that, Geo brought a small piece of cloth from somewhere and covered the fallen rabbit doll on the floor.
“Just do it like this.”
Both Seti, who dropped the rabbit doll on the floor, and Geo, who took care of the fallen doll, looked adorable.
I sat next to Geo, who had snuggled under the blanket, and gently stroked his hair.
“You’ve been through a lot since dawn.
Sleep well, Geo.”
Will you sleep more, Mom?”
“Well, I don’t know.
Actually, I would be happy if you could sleep more too.
It’s been a while since we slept in the same room.”
“You wanted to sleep in the same room as me?”
Geo closed his eyes and smiled contentedly.
The sleepy voice of the child, slowly fading away, was pleasant to hear.
“I wanted to dream with you, Mom.”
“You wanted to dream with me?”
Mom doesn’t often come in my dreams, so I tried to find you in my dreams, but it seems like you’re too far away.
It would be easier to find you if we sleep in the same room.”
Even though he seemed mature, he was still just a child.
I smiled and kissed Geo’s forehead.
Then Mom will sleep together with you.”
Geo pressed his cheek against the back of my hand and smiled brightly.
“Thank you, Mom.
After saying our good-nights, I went to my own bed and laid down.
I felt heavy and tired, likely due to staying up all night.
As I listened to the gentle breathing of the children filling the room, I closed my eyes.
Just having the children together with me made the room feel warm.
I was happy, but as happy as I was, I was also afraid.
Lucerne promised to protect them, but would it be possible to keep the children safe from Collis? What if the children got hurt because of me?
…What would happen after Lucerne protects the children from Collis?
Someday, I would have to tell the children the truth.
Would they forgive me then? I couldn’t help but tremble at the thought of the children despising me and no longer loving me.
I clenched my lips tightly and forced myself to fall asleep.
* * *
Surprisingly, nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Aside from being confined to the Imperial Palace of Santuris and the adjacent Sangsahwa Gardens, it was a peaceful and tranquil daily life.
The world outside the palace seemed busy and bustling with preparations but my life with the children was carefree and leisurely.
Lucerne, who had promised to return later, never came back after leaving the reception room.
At first, I wondered if I had been abandoned, but the servants, including Asilis and Caleb, took even better care of me than before.
The Imperial Palace remained safe.
Lucerne not only ensured that Collis couldn’t come anywhere near, but he also tightened control over those who used to attend to Santuris.
Although he didn’t show himself, Lucerne still looked after me.
On a sunny afternoon, I watched the children playing and frolicking in the garden.
Today, as always, the children were innocent and lively, and I observed them with a sense of tranquility, as if I were someone awaiting a death sentence.
I didn’t know when it happened, but Caleb neatly placed two books on the table where snacks were prepared.
They were books I had never seen before.
Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Did Lucerne send them again today?”
“Yes, he did.”
Before the transmigration, I used to read novels whenever I had the time, and even after coming to the palace, I would take books from Lucerne’s study and read them.
Recently, I had more free time, so I spent my time re-reading the books I had read before.
Just when I thought I would memorize the contents of the books, Lucerne started sending me novels.
Today was no exception.
What surprised me was that, unlike the first time, he seemed to be quite good at matching my taste.
On the first day, he sent a strange novel about a vengeful old man appearing in dreams, but today he sent a love story between a magician and a noble lady, and a love story between a fairy and a knight.
I couldn’t fathom how he could know these things through magic.
As someone who was unfamiliar with magic, I had no idea.
Instead of dwelling on it, I smiled and opened the book.
“Please convey my gratitude.”
Your Majesty will be very pleased.”
“Will he?” I swallowed the words “I wonder” that almost slipped out.
I couldn’t understand Lucerne’s mind.
Just a while ago, I could see into his innermost thoughts as if peering into a transparent glass bottle.
Holding the book in my hands, I finished the tea in my cup.
One of the servants standing behind me hurriedly approached.
“Your Highness, I will bring you a fresh cup of tea.
What kind of tea would you like? Shall I prepare the Red Blossom Tea? Or would you prefer the Apple Tea as usual?”
“Hmm, today I’ll have the floral tea.
Can I have something other than the Red Blossom Tea?”
“Of course, you can have any tea that can be prepared immediately in the palace.”
As I pondered over what to drink, I ordered a tea that I had never been curious about before.
“Please prepare the tea that Lucerne drinks most frequently.”
The face of the servant who held the tea tray lit up.
She continuously smiled as if delighted, then left to fetch the tea.
Was it such a joyful occasion for me to drink the tea that Lucerne liked? I casually mentioned it without much thought, simply because I wanted to be close to something related to him while he was absent.
Caleb, who was standing nearby, resolved my curiosity.
“Your Majesty will be pleased.
If he finds out that you have taken an interest in something he enjoys, he may reward that child greatly.”
“Would Lucerne truly feel that way?”
“He is such a person.
Both I and that child know it, so we are delighted.”
In the past, I would have been delighted as well, but now it was different.
I couldn’t understand why my interest in Lucerne would bring him joy.
Lucerne knows everything.
Even though he knows I deceived him, it’s hard to believe he would still be pleased by my interest.
If that were the case, there would be no reason for him to remain hidden and not reveal himself before me.
I looked at the table filled with red food and my preferred novels, then lowered my head.
I felt perplexed.
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