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.

“Well done.
Since both of us made a wish, it will definitely come true.”

It’s okay.
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?”

“Of course.”

“I’m scared.
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?”

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.”

A lie.

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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