good way.
Though belated, I want to apologize…”

Ah.
 

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?”   

“Yes.”

After blinking her large eyes several times as if bewildered, Hyerim whispered with reddened cheeks.
 

“….Thank you.”

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.
 

“Lee Hye-rim.”

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.”    

“Hiya kiddo!” 

“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?” 

“Tell us.”   

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.”

“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.

“Mom?”

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.”  

“Whaaaat?!”

As I hesitated, Geo sensed that it was something serious, and his face darkened.
I closed my eyes tightly.

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