The children’s gazes first landed on Lucerne, then shifted to Caleb standing by his side, carrying a basket with five sky lanterns and white bread.
“Wow! Exciting! It’s finally time to release the sky lanterns! Yaho!”
“I really wanted to do this! The kid from the house behind us brags about it all the time.
I’ve been so jealous!”
“Seti, it’s mine, Seti, it’s mine!”
“Please, give it to me first!”
“No way! I’m going to be the first to release it, so give it to me first!”
“Seti, give it to me!”
The children eagerly approached Caleb, each receiving one sky lantern.
While Marley fixed her pants, Geo’s awkward smile turned into a sad expression when our eyes met.
I sat down on the floor and embraced Geo tightly in my arms.
“Geo, are you feeling upset because your wish didn’t come true alone? Shall I make a wish together with you?”
Geo’s green irises trembled with emotion.
With a deeply moved expression, the child locked eyes with me and made a decision, nodding his head.
“Mom, I won’t make a wish.
I want to release the sky lantern instead.”
“You won’t make a wish? Why all of a sudden?”
Tears welled up in Geo’s sparkling eyes.
“Mom… You said we shouldn’t be too greedy.
Even though my wish didn’t come true, so many good things happened this year.
I’m scared that if I ask for more here, everything will disappear…”
I asked carefully in a gentle tone, “Do you think many good things happened to Geo this year?”
“Can you give me some examples?”
“You changed, Mom.
You said you love me and that you’re happy.”
I held my breath.
The fact that all the good things that happened to this seven-year-old child were because of ‘me’ overwhelmed me, and at the same time…
“Yesterday, while lying on my bed, I kept thinking.
Even though my wish didn’t come true, I’m really happy that you changed, Mom.
That’s why I don’t want to make any other wishes.
I don’t want to be greedy and go back to the scary Mom from before.
I don’t want that.”
As the six of us flew over the rooftops of the Imperial Palace, the breathtaking view of Santuris and the vast gardens spread below us, adorned with the radiant lights of lanterns and sky lanterns, unfolded.
It was truly beautiful.
The kids were ecstatic, screaming with joy.
Even Geo, who had been somber during the wish talk, lost himself in the scenery and smiled brightly.
“Here we go! Superhero Mallitia’s first sky lantern! Thank you for letting me eat a hundred chocolates!” exclaimed Marley as her lantern floated up into the sky.
“Thanks for the beautiful princess dresses!” said Rie, holding her lantern high.
Handsome!” cheered Seti.
Lucerne, my lantern, and I followed suit, and soon, the night sky was filled with a wondrous display of lights.
One by one, the lanterns gathered beneath Santuris rose into the night sky, like an exquisite watercolor painting spreading across the city – from within Santuris, beyond its walls, and even from the outskirts of the city.
Following Marley’s lantern, which soared from the highest point, dozens, hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of lanterns floated up, creating a spectacular sight.
Against the backdrop of the beautiful lanterns, I offered a white bread to Geo.
It’s okay to make a wish.”
Surprised, Geo looked up as the lantern shimmered with a magical glow.
Hesitant, he slowly accepted the bread but couldn’t muster the courage to make a wish right away.
I reached into the basket and pulled out another white bread, closing my eyes for a moment.
It was a good thing I asked Caleb to prepare extra bread.
I had already released my lantern, so it wouldn’t matter if I made a wish.
“Whatever Geo wishes for, please make sure it comes true before the year ends.”
I took a bite of the sweet and soft bread and opened my eyes.
Geo blinked, unsure of what to do.
“Um, Mom, if you say the wish like this, what do I do…?”
“It’s for you, Geo.
I hesitated to use the word “Mom” as I had made up my mind to reveal the truth.
Thankfully, the kids were chattering away nearby, and it seemed my slip of the tongue went unnoticed by Geo.
I smiled nonchalantly and continued, “It’s for Geo’s sake.
Finally determined to tell the truth, I struggled to address myself as “Mom.” Hoping that my “Mom” sounded unremarkable, I added, “I hope Geo’s wish comes true.
It’ll make Geo happy.”
In the end, Geo closed his eyes tightly.
After Marley’s lantern became a dot in the sky, he made his wish.
“…I really want to go out in town with you this year.”
I gazed at Geo as he happily chewed on the white bread.
Astia, was it because of the pain that you couldn’t fulfill his simple wish? Please excuse me with that explanation.
Tell him it wasn’t because I was lazy or didn’t care.
Even if it were true, he wouldn’t have known.
Please assure him that Geo’s loving heart hurt me less than I imagined.
I placed the bread back in the basket and pulled Geo into a warm embrace.
Since both of us made a wish, it will definitely come true.”
I’m already so happy just because Mom made a wish with me.”
“No, next time, let’s leave the little ones to Lucerne or Mr.
Caleb and go out together.
Let’s explore, buy things we wanted, savor delicious food, and have lots of fun stories to share.”
With newfound strength in his stiff body, Geo clung to me.
“It’s the first time you’ve said something like this, Mom.
Is it really, really okay?”
I really don’t want Mom to go back to the way she was before.
I should’ve wished for Mom to stay like this forever, so I wouldn’t have to go out.
I just want you to stay by my side like this.”
The words “stay like this forever” pained me.
He didn’t know this was all a lie.
He was speaking of “forever like this” as though it were true.
Before his feeling of betrayal grew larger, before it became irreversible, I had to reveal the truth.
The sky filled with thousands of lanterns was incredibly beautiful.
* * *
After seeing off the children and returning to Santuris with Hyerim, Caleb whispered to Lucerne.
“Your Majesty, the nobles’ gazes are sharp.
They hope you wouldn’t get too close to the children.
If the children’s magic grows stronger, it could endanger the imperial power.
The noble faction, which was scattered after Isaac’s death, might rise in rebellion again.”
Lucerne had anticipated this reaction.
However, he had no intention of stopping being close to the children and teaching them magic.
They were the only things that made Hyerim smile these days, and he wanted to cherish that one and only smile up close.
Seeing no particular response from Lucerne, the observant Calib quietly withdrew.
Hyerim silently sat in the reception room and opened a book, while Lucerne watched her from a distance.
Today, Hyerim was different.
While the children had laughed and been happy, she didn’t smile.
She even seemed sad.
He couldn’t fathom the reason behind it.
Why? He had no clue and felt his heart sink.
It was maddening.
They had decided to spend the festival with the children to make Hyerim happy.
He thought that if the children were delighted, she would smile happily too, just like always.
However, today, Hyerim didn’t seem pleased.
He couldn’t understand the reason behind it.
His mind was in turmoil.
After staring at Hyerim for a while, she suddenly lifted her head.
“Lucerne, I have a favor to ask.”
* * *
A favor, of all things! How rare it was for Hyerim to ask for something!
Lucerne couldn’t hide his urgency.
“What is it? Whatever it is, I’ll grant it.”
“I want you to gather the children in the garden tomorrow morning.”
“The children? Won’t we meet them during the day anyway?”
“I have something I want to talk to them about as soon as possible.”
“Something you want to talk to them about urgently?”
Hyerim’s face showed sadness, the same expression she had on the rooftop of Santuris during the festival.
“Just… It’s nothing important.”
Lucerne had no gift for reading Hyerim’s emotions, but he could sense it from this much.
She asked him to gather the children early in the morning, and yet she wore such a sorrowful expression during the festival.
There couldn’t be a trivial matter she urgently wanted to discuss with the children.
Lee Hyerim, she must have planned to talk about something important tomorrow morning.
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