Hyerim looked anxious.
The children were her only means of staying connected to Lucerne.
If a rift grew between them, he wouldn’t be able to hold her back.
He couldn’t let that happen.
Lucerne’s voice grew somber.
“I want to help with your request, but it seems impossible.”
“Impossible?” Hyerim questioned.
“Because you’re lying to me.”
Hyerim’s face, which had been immersed in sadness, was now bewildered.
She was truly someone who couldn’t lie.
“Didn’t you say the talk with the children was nothing special? You intend to tell the children an amazing story.”
“Tell me what you plan to say.”
Though he spoke sternly, Hyerim stubbornly kept her mouth shut and didn’t answer.
He heaved a sigh and ran his hand through his hair.
“If you can’t say it, I have no choice but to prevent you from meeting the children for now.”
“What…Why? What does telling you my thoughts have to do with me meeting the children!?”
“It has everything to do with it.
The children became precious existences to me during our time together in the palace.
I can’t let you meet the children if you might hurt them.”
“Hurt the children! I’m not Astia! I would never……!”
Hyerim’s face turned white as she raised her voice.
She covered her mouth and abruptly stood up from her seat, stumbling back.
“No…I mean, Astia…Astia is right.
His chest tightened.
It was pitiful to see her struggle to say she was Astia.
He wanted to run up and tell her she wasn’t Astia, she was Hyerim.
But he wasn’t sure she wanted that.
He clenched his fist and slowly opened it as he listened to Hyerim’s trembling voice.
“I don’t plan to deliberately hurt the children, but I don’t want to, but I…If I don’t talk, the children might get hurt.
Of course they might get hurt from hearing my story, but I still have to tell it…!”
He didn’t understand what she was saying at all.
When he took a step closer, Hyerim flinched and trembled violently.
Though sorry and heartfelt, seeing her express emotions was joyful after so long.
“So you want to hurt the children.”
“Tell me honestly.
What were you going to tell the children?”
Hyerim looked at Lucerne with confusion, then looked down at the floor and repeated the motion.
It was familiar, like when they first met.
His heart beat wildly.
After making up her mind, Hyerim muttered with her shoulders slumped.
“The truth…I wanted to reveal that I’m Hyerim, not Astia.”
Then the children would get hurt.”
Hyerim bit her lips, which were already red.
He wanted to free her bitten lips.
“Why reveal it now? Weren’t things fine as they were with the children?”
“Geo is worried I’ll go back to being his original mother.
After hearing that, I decided.
The old mother is gone, I won’t change from now on, and I want to tell them.”I don’t want to lie to the children anymore.”
“You want to hurt them to assuage their anxiety.”
At his short summary, Hyerim’s slender body shuddered.
“I know I’m being selfish.
But they will eventually realize I’m not the real Astia, so I thought it’s better to tell them before it’s too late.
The longer they don’t know, the greater their sense of betrayal will be when they find out.”
“Like how you did, I don’t want to reveal who I am in a way the children hate.
Though the children may hate me, I at least want to tell the truth with my own mouth.”
Hyerim lifted her head to meet Lucerne’s gaze.
She felt like she would fall into his glistening green eyes.
Dizzy, she had to touch the table nearby to maintain her balance.
“….You thought it through.”
“It’s good to tell them before it’s too late.
You would surely reveal your identity in a shocking way that would hurt the children.
Deciding to be upfront beforehand was the right choice.
I’ll gather the children tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you for understanding…I’m grateful.”
Hyerim clutched her hands together and fidgeted.
It seemed she had something to say as she opened and closed her mouth.
Lucerne restrained his feelings for Hyerim and took in her emotional expression.
After hesitating for a while, Hyerim carefully spoke.
“And I’m sorry.
I shocked you in…not a good way.
Though belated, I want to apologize…”
Lucerne finally couldn’t help but move.
In a flash, he disappeared then reappeared in a flash of blue light right in front of Hyerim.
He wanted to touch her.
Somehow, he wanted to be with Hyerim.
But Lucerne couldn’t rashly reach out his hand, and could only commit the up close Hyerim to his eyes.
Hyerim, who was startled, couldn’t finish her words and opened her rounded eyes wide.
Her slightly parted lips were lovely.
“Say your apology again.”
“Apologize? Um… I’m sorry.
I’ve really caused you trouble in many ways.”
“Thank you as well.”
“Tha, thank you?”
After blinking her large eyes several times as if bewildered, Hyerim whispered with reddened cheeks.
The wind blew again.
A warm spring breeze blew in Lucerne’s world.
Though Hyerim didn’t explain further, it was clear she was truly grateful.
It wasn’t carelessly uttered thanks just because Lucerne told her to.
She was truly grateful for something.
It was a thankful heart filled to the brim.
As the sudden wind gusted, Hyerim, not knowing what to do, looked around her surroundings.
Even that was lovely.
To not pull her into his embrace, he spoke with force in his voice.
“To reveal your identity to the children, it’d be best to standardize your title.
From now on I’ll call you Hyerim, not Astia.”
“What, what did you say?”
“I’ll let the servants and knights know as well.”
“But I’m Astia…”
She seemed quite flustered.
Hyerim’s green eyes shook as much as her fluttering hair.
Lucerne quietly fixed Hyerim’s hair that was tickling her face and tucked it behind her ear.
His fingertips that touched her skin trembled fearfully.
His heart thumped loudly.
“What are you saying? You’re Hyerim, not Astia.
Even if you don’t like it, I have no choice.
While others call you Astia, if you’re introduced as Hyerim to the children alone, it’ll surely confuse them.”
Without responding, Lucerne whispered while looking into Hyerim’s eyes that stared at him.
At the three characters of her name, Hyerim’s heart and Lucerne’s heart fluttered like a flower in the storm.
* * *
Right after breakfast, Lucerne called the children to the garden at my request.
Lucerne’s words that he understands me and his voice calling my name came to mind, making my heart pound.
It was for the children’s sake, but I was glad he acknowledged my existence as Hyerim.
In the strange mind where worry and joy coexisted, I looked at the children.
“Good morning, Emperor Lucerne.”
“Good morning, Uncle Emperor.”
“Uncle, will you teach me magic today?”
“Marley, you have to use honorifics for the Emperor.”
“No…? Hmm, Uncle, will you teach me magic today?”
“Hahaha! Silly Marley, what honorific?”
“Uncle, I’m not silly?”
Lucerne listened attentively to the children’s greetings and chatter.
The combination of his reserved self and their lively selves fit together surprisingly well.
Only after the rowdy morning greetings passed did the children fall silent.
Rie spoke politely.
The five year old pretending to be a princess from a fairy tale was quite dignified.
“Uncle Emperor, why did you call us this morning?”
Lucerne responded by looking at me instead.
I wasn’t sure it was the right choice and thought the children may hate me, but I had no choice.
My heart was decided.
I didn’t want to keep lying to the children.
Lucerne opened his mouth heavily.
“The reason I called you here today is because there’s something I want to say.”
“What is it?”
Geo and Rie’s shoulders tensed upon noticing Lucerne’s serious expression.
Marley and Seti were just looking around to see if there was anything interesting, regardless.
I bit my lips once to get rid of my hesitation.
“….Mom has something to tell you.
It’s a secret.”
Even Marley and Seti looked at me shiningly at the mention of a secret.
My throat was dry.
The children’s real mom had already died, and I was actually not their mom but someone else.
How should I explain that? Though I puzzled over it all night and imagined it many times, it was difficult to speak.
Though I left the door of speech open, I hesitated for a long time.
As I hesitated, Geo’s face darkened, realizing it was a serious matter.
I closed my eyes.
“Kids, I’m sorry.
I’m actually not your real mom.”
As I hesitated, Geo sensed that it was something serious, and his face darkened.
I closed my eyes tightly.
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