“Uh, Marley? Hold on a sec, Uncle.
My sister just called me, and I’ll go over to her place for a little while.”


When Geo, the master of soil manipulation, caught sight of the workers excavating the garden, he couldn’t contain his excitement at the opportunity to lend a hand.
Fearlessly, he approached the uncles and joined in the digging, while his younger siblings happily played nearby.

Geo effortlessly created a hole that required the strength of only a few mighty men, although he was modest and somewhat bashful when praised.
The workers admired him for his skills, and as a result, he was recognized as a true gardener.
Meanwhile, I, who was limited to sleeping and eating, couldn’t help but feel a tinge of envy.

With a slight pang of jealousy, I watched as Geo hopped over to his younger siblings and rapped on their shoulders, prompting them to turn towards him.

“Why, Marley? What’s happening? Why are Rie and Seti crying like this?”

“What’s wrong? The doll got caught on a tree branch over there and they’re upset about it.”

“Okay, but how did the doll end up there? Rie, Seti, you look really upset.”

“Oh no, brother! Can you get the bunny rabbit down for us?”

“I’ll get it for you!”

“Uh, uh, uh, how do I get down…?”

Geo approached Marley with a serious expression.
Have you ever witnessed a strong gust of wind? Or perhaps shaken a tree? It’s too large to shake, should I climb the tree? How can I do that? Should I build a mound? But the tree is too tall.
Should I borrow a ladder? Maybe a ladder?

Marley began running around, ready to ask us where the ladder was.
Meanwhile, Geo, with his arms crossed, contemplated the situation and shook his head.

“No, Marley.
I’ll make a ladder.”

Geo constructed a ladder by gathering damp soil from the children’s play area.
After a few failed attempts, he successfully crafted a sturdy ladder and positioned it directly beneath the tree branch where the doll was hanging.

Marley patted Geo on the shoulder.

“Haha! You’re amazing, big brother! Should I go up? What if I fall? You’ll catch me, right?”

“Alright.
Be careful as you climb.”

Geo awkwardly positioned himself with arms and legs spread apart.

As Marley ascended the ladder, Rie hurried over and held onto the base.

“I’m coming to the land of bunnies and rabbits! Even if you’re scared, just hang in there and wait a little longer!”

“Hey! Ah! Don’t shake it, you scared me!”

Seti stopped crying and joined Rie to watch Marley clinging to the ladder.

“Seti can’t climb up.
It’s too high and dangerous.
Your older brother will make a smaller and cuter ladder later.”

“I want a beautiful one!”

“Okay, okay.
Beautiful… I’ll make you a ladder and a slide.
How does that sound?”

“Did you mean slide?”


“Yes, the slide.
You’ve seen it at the playground before.
Shoosh, coming down.”

“Shoo?”

“Swoon!”

“Shoo! And! It’s called a slide! Shoo! Pretty slide! Hurray! I’m so excited!”

“Wow! Brother Geo made a slide! How thrilling! I want to decorate it with flowers!”

“Shhhhhhh!”

Underneath the ladder, Rie and Seti jumped up and down, expressing their excitement, while Marley, who was reaching for the doll at the top of the ladder, screamed.

“Yaaaaa! Don’t shake the ladder!”

“It’s okay, Marley.
It’s not shaking.
This ladder is firmly stuck in the ground, so it won’t move.”

“But it’s shaking!”

“That’s because you’re shaking your head.”

“Ouch! Aww!”

Marley screamed and flung her arms.
As soon as her arms reached, the dolls fell to the floor as if they had been waiting.

Rie and Seti were overjoyed and embraced their dolls tightly.

“I’ve arrived at the land of bunnies and rabbits! Were you scared? You did a great job.
What’s with that face and clothes? Mommy will wash your face and do the laundry.
You’ll look as pretty as a princess.”

Seti watched as Rie gently petted the rabbit that had come to the sea, then clumsily followed suit.
The children, brushing the dirt off their dolls’ faces and removing the leaves from their clothes, laughed happily as if they hadn’t cried before.

It was true, just as Caleb had said.
Children had the power to solve problems on their own, especially these four children.
I smiled widely, feeling the happiness in the air.

Suddenly, a familiar voice called out from behind.

“Alright, just like that.”

The maids and Caleb quickly bowed, and I also stood up in surprise.

It was Lucerne, who hadn’t shown his face all morning, claiming to be busy with political matters.
He looked at the children chattering under the garden tree with curiosity.
There was an unfamiliar expression on his face, neither quite happy nor disapproving.

“They say these children are precious enough for you to risk your life.
Are you content just watching them?”

“Yes.”

“Absolutely.”

Lucerne responded curtly and sat down next to me.
He took a sip of tea, his gaze fixed on the garden rather than the children or me.


He tilted his head and asked, “Are you jealous?”

“Big! Cough!”

It wasn’t Lucerne who coughed, but Asilis, the maid standing behind him.
Lucerne frowned in annoyance, and the maids paled.

When I said I love Lucerne, she dismissed it as nonsense.
She was a woman full of doubt.
It’s embarrassing to talk about jealousy.

Seemingly offended, Lucerne placed his teacup down and crossed his arms, letting out a grumble.

“…Caleb.”

“I apologize.
I will make sure to educate them not to disturb Your Majesty and Lady Astia during tea time.”

“Just educate them.
No need for any limb amputations.
They couldn’t even rise from the ashes.”

Astia shot her a stern look, making it clear what would happen if she disobeyed.

Lucerne’s lips curled up in a playful manner, resembling a stubborn child.

“Astia, you are far too forgiving.”

“Is that because you are too ruthless? Then what will you do when people start calling you a tyrant?”

“It’s not something for you to worry about, not even for a day or two.”

So, he knew he was seen as a tyrant? Then why did he continue to act that way? Did he secretly desire to be a tyrant? If I were the Emperor, I suppose I would want to become a formidable leader.
But perhaps those in positions of power feel differently?

Regardless, I was about to refuse again when the children came running towards us.

“Mom! We went to the land of rabbits and saved them!”

“Um! We saved it!”

Rie and Seti proudly held up their slightly disheveled dolls and beamed, while Geo and Marley followed suit.

“Did you see, Mom? I climbed the ladder and rescued it! Wasn’t I brave? It felt like being a righteous warrior!”

“Mom, I built the ladder.
I made it really strong.
Have I improved my magic skills?”

I made eye contact with each child and smiled.

“Yes, your mom saw it all.
I witnessed Marley hanging her dolls from the branches.
Rie and Seti were upset, weren’t they? Geo built the ladder exceptionally well.
Show it to the uncles too.
And Marley, despite being scared, it was wonderful to see her overcome her fears and climb up!”

“Hehehe.
I hope I can help you all with your work.”

“Oh, I’m afraid of heights.
*rattle!*”

“Mom, I was so upset.
Please give me a hug!”

“Oh, Yes, me too.”


“Come here.
Mommy will hug all of you.”

As I crouched down on the floor, the children approached me with bright smiles, as if they had been eagerly awaiting my embrace.

“Just a moment.”

At Lucerne’s low voice, both the children and I tensed up, our arms spread wide.

Lucerne loosened his crossed arms, raised his right hand, and extended it towards us.

“You have the courage to get dirty and receive a hug from Astia.”

“Oh?”

A warm breeze, distinct from Marley’s, swept through.
The wind whisked away the dirt and dust from the children’s bodies, vanishing over the garden, and the children cheered as they saw themselves instantly clean.

“Wow! What’s this? Am I clean?”

“Wow! My skirt is spotless!”

“Magic? Can you use magic too?”

Lucerne, sitting with his arms crossed once again, responded curtly, questioning why they would ask such an obvious thing.

“Observe and find out.”

Geo’s eyes sparkled with curiosity.

“That’s amazing! I’ve never seen anyone else use magic besides my dad and us.
Are you powerful?”

“Yes.
I am…”

“These things have no manners.”

A peculiar voice echoed from a distance.

The voice was small yet distinct, causing both the children and me to look around in confusion.
Lucerne, on the other hand, stood up and spoke with annoyance.

“…Why are you here?”

Did the Emperor, Lucerne, just use an honorific?

I jumped in surprise.

The maids and Caleb bowed once again, and only then did I notice a noblewoman in an extravagant gown, accompanied by an older man, making their way towards us.

I widened my eyes and observed the haughty lady.
Her pale, wrinkled skin, the weighty attire she wore, the ornate headdress that threatened to topple with the slightest tilt of her head, and the intricately woven parasol made a striking impression.

The lady, who was about my height, raised her chin and glared at me through half-closed eyes.


…?

Why was she staring at me like that? What did she expect to achieve by giving me such a scrutinizing look?

A barely audible snort escaped her lips.

The man accompanying her grumbled.

“I didn’t expect to encounter such pests within the imperial palace.”

Pests? Was he referring to me and the children?

Caught off guard, I stifled a laugh.

Lucerne’s voice grew stern.

“Choose your words wisely.”

“What is this insolent bird blabbering about? You’re like a spoiled brat who doesn’t appreciate the kindness shown to you.”

“The child is doing the best to show gratitude.
Are you still incapable of understanding?”

“You insolent Lucerne…!”

“It’s been a while, His Majesty, the former Emperor Henry, but I suppose I should address you properly.
Your Excellency, Duke Henry.”

Henry seethed with anger.

With hair as dark as the night sky, eyes that shimmered like opals, and captivating, dark features, Lucerne and Henry were undoubtedly father and son.
However, their conversation hinted at a strained relationship.

The children discreetly moved closer and sought refuge behind me.

“Lucerne…”

“They called him Lucerne.”

“They said Lucerne is a monster.”

“Then is this man also a monster?”

“No, I’m scared.”

“But they said Lucerne is a heartless killer.”

“I’m scared, Mom… I’m scared.”

“Don’t worry, everything will be alright.”

Geo, Marley, and Rie hid behind the folds of my dress, while Seti tightly shut her eyes and covered her face with her hands.
I gently held Seti’s trembling wrist.

The children seemed unaware that Lucerne was the same person as the Lucerne they knew.
I had intended to formally introduce Lucerne to them, but the presence of the former Emperor standing before us created an unsettling atmosphere.

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