Apple garden


“Which specific moment from yesterday?” I asked curiously.

Lucerne replied, “I meant when you were peeling the apples during last night’s dinner, exactly like that…”

As I eagerly awaited Lucerne’s words, my mind raced with thoughts.
I yearned to bring even more joy and contentment into Lucerne’s life.
What other actions of mine had made a positive impact last night?

After a brief pause, Lucerne clenched his lips tightly, gathering the courage to meet my gaze.
His eyes shimmered with a profound blend of complex emotions that defied simple description.

“…I want to see you smile, just like that,” he finally confessed, his voice filled with earnest longing.

My mind went blank, unable to comprehend the request.

“Smile? Laugh?” I stammered, my voice trembling.

Lucerne’s gaze grew somber, as if he had accepted my hesitant words.

“…I apologize if I seemed selfish,” he said softly.

Confusion surged within me.
This couldn’t be considered greed.
It was merely a concern, a desire to give back in some way.

My heart pounded wildly, making it difficult to breathe.
Dizziness swept over me, as if the ground beneath me was trembling.

“Is it truly…that simple? Just eating, sleeping, staying healthy, and smiling?” I murmured, struggling to comprehend.

“Okay,” came the plain response.

All I had to do was indulge in sleeping, eat whatever I desired, and live with a smile.
It was a life I never dared to imagine.
Could I truly live like that? Was Lucerne genuinely content with just those things?

As the morning sunlight streamed through the window, my reflection appeared.
It was Astia, a woman with a vacant expression and flushed cheeks.
Originally, I should have been delighted with the luxuries that Astia deserved, but now I was overwhelmed with confusion.

Without acknowledging the turmoil within me, Lucerne calmly nodded.

“Now that you’re awake, let’s have breakfast together,” he suggested.

Unable to calm my agitated mind, I followed Lucerne out of the drawing room.
He didn’t give me a chance to gather my thoughts, presenting me with another challenge, or rather, another revelation.
I longed to take a seat before heading to breakfast, as I couldn’t help but notice the view outside the hallway window.

The once pristine garden I had entered just yesterday was now in disarray, as if it had been ravaged by a storm.
Crowds of people were digging, carrying, and relocating trees, causing a commotion that filled the air.

Puzzled, she tilted her head and turned to Lucerne.


“Lucerne, why is the garden in such a state?”

“I’m creating a garden,” he replied.

“A garden? But it was already a garden,” she said, confused.

“But it wasn’t an apple garden before, was it?”

“Yes?”

What was he talking about? An apple garden?

As I halted, Lucerne also came to a stop.
He glanced out the window, then spoke casually.

“Since you mentioned that you like apples, I thought of making an apple garden.”

“What? You want to transform the beautiful garden into an apple garden just because of me?”

“Yes.”

“No, that’s… I can’t believe it,” she muttered, her heart now pounding with anticipation.

Seeking words of apology, she was both shocked and overjoyed by Lucerne’s response.
It was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that left her breathless.
She couldn’t find the right words to express it.

Had there ever been someone in this world who tried their best to offer something they knew you liked? Did such a person truly exist?

In the midst of her hesitation, Caleb approached and greeted Lucerne.

“Your Majesty, you are here.
I have been waiting for you.”

“How did things go?” Lucerne inquired.

“I have gathered all the plant experts as you requested.
We will soon use the teleportation orb to bring them to the imperial palace,” Caleb informed Lucerne.

“Have you found everyone?” she asked.

“Yes.
We have recruited experts in various red fruit plants, including apples and strawberries, as well as specialists in red leaf plants and red flowers.”

She was taken aback by the peculiar names but noticed that Lucerne had a serious expression on his face.


“Very well.
Make sure to locate all the craftsmen and experts related to the color red throughout the empire, excluding butchers and executioners,” Lucerne instructed.

“I will take care of it,” Caleb replied with a bow before disappearing as quietly as he had appeared.

Lucerne nodded as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

She couldn’t contain her confusion any longer.
“Hold on, Lucerne.
What does it mean? Why are you collecting these red experts?”

Lucerne’s lips moved slowly, as if in slow motion.
He looked at her knowingly and tilted his head.

“Isn’t it obvious? I am doing it to please you,” he answered.

It was then that she noticed the scent of apples permeating the hallway.

Throughout the breakfast, Lucerne toyed with his spoon like a fool, while the dishes were filled with apple-based delicacies.
All she could hear was the sound of her own heartbeat pounding in her ears.

I sat in there absent-mindedly, oblivious to the fact that my meal was already finished.
If it weren’t for the children pleading to play in the garden, I might have remained seated until lunchtime.

Caleb set up a tea table in a corner of the garden that hadn’t been dug up yet.
Tea and refreshments were served in exquisite gold-adorned tea ware.
I sat there, basking in the warm sun, while Caleb, Dipeume, and the maids attended the children.

Amidst the pleasant sounds of the wind, I heard the joyful screams of the children.

“Kyaaaaaaaaaah!”

“Aagh! Yaaah! Stop it!”

“Kyakyakya! Bring it on, you villains! Lady Malitia, the hero of justice, will defeat them all!”

“I’m in a sea of bunnies and rabbits, you naughty poop!”

“Anye! Anye! Nnidre Ttokki! Ninidre Tokki Naya Gajjjjjjjyo! Whoa!”

“If you give me all your snacks, I’ll spare you!”

To my surprise, those were the names of the rabbit dolls that Rie and Seti had brought from home.

Initially, I thought they had come up with those names on the spot due to their complexity, but they had been calling them by those names since they first received the dolls.
The world of children is truly fascinating, the more you delve into it.

The dolls, caught in the wind created by Marley, swayed helplessly from the branches of the trees.
Marley continued teasing Rie and Seti, playfully refusing to give up the doll, and soon a playful war broke out between the children.


Chew! Rie conjured a water ball and hurled it at Marley, leaving him drenched in an instant.

“Aww! I’m all wet!”

Seti, realizing something, conjured a fire orb and aimed it at Marley.
Panicked, Marley quickly extinguished the flames with the power of the wind and fled.

“Hey! Ah! It’s hot! Charge! Hey! Don’t do that! Oh, it’s hot! That’s a foul! Why is it 2 to 1? Take it back!”

“You hung the bunny and rabbit from the sea on the tree!”

“Nidre Toki Ayatana!”

“Wait, are they not dolls, but villains? Do you two go around causing mischief while everyone’s asleep? Wow, it’s hot! Charge! Evil!”

“Ah, put me down! Put me down!”

“I’m going to get you!”

In the end, Rie and Seti sat on the ground, crying and rubbing their legs.
Each time Rie stomped his foot, a water orb formed, and each time Seti stomped her foot, a fire orb appeared and scattered into the air.
The orbs collided in mid-air, creating a shower of sparks and filling the surroundings with steam.

Hmm… the situation didn’t look good, so I wiggled my butt to try and calm the kids down.

“Please sit down,” Caleb urged, using his voice to gently press me back into my seat.

“But, the children…,” I protested.

“Just let it be.
This is how children grow,” Caleb reassured me.
“Sometimes they get upset, and when they’re upset, they cry it out and find a way to make things better.
Children are stronger than lady Astia thinks.
It’s okay if you can’t understand it right now.
This experience is enough.”

Unlike me, who often gets anxious and restless, Caleb had been watching the children with a smile on his face.
Every time I fretted, he would explain just how amazing kids can be.

It felt comforting.
Caleb’s words carried a different kind of strength than Lucerne’s, and I didn’t rush to the children’s side as he suggested.
I trusted that Calib knew what he was talking about.

But I had concerns beyond just my children.

“Caleb, the garden will be ruined like this.”

“This area is going to be dug up anyway.
I plan to create a strawberry garden here.
The children’s playfulness will help soften the soil, and the workers will appreciate it.”

“But won’t Lucerne be upset about the disruption to the aesthetics?”


Upon hearing my question, the maids behind Caleb visibly grew nervous, and Dipeume, who stood beside him, stifled a giggle while glancing at the other maids.
Unexpectedly, Caleb shifted his focus from the children to me.

“Are you genuinely concerned about that?”

“Of course.”

“…Alright.”

Calib briefly averted his gaze, then turned back to the children.

“I will answer for you, so there’s no need to ask His Majesty.
I don’t want him to feel further hurt.”

“Hurt…? That was not my intention.

“Wouldn’t it sadden you if anyone doubted your intentions and sincerity?”

Caleb reminded me that even though Lucerne was a powerful emperor, he was still human.
Despite knowing how much he loved Astia, I chided myself for asking such a thoughtless question.

In a composed tone, Caleb provided a reassuring response.

“Your Majesty wouldn’t be upset with Lady Astia’s children for disrupting the garden’s beauty.
If Lady Astia smiles, he would likely be delighted even if they set fire to the imperial palace.”

I wanted to admonish him for making such a remark, but I recalled Lucerne’s words from this morning, reminding me that all I needed to do was smile.
I closed my mouth instead.

Caleb offered a kind smile in return.

“Do not doubt his heart.
Even if it’s challenging, you have to trust him.”

“Alright, I will give it a try.”

Despite feeling unsettled, warmth spread within her.

A pang of longing struck her heart as she wondered if she would have experienced such emotions if she had a father.

She observed the children’s playful skirmish with a newfound sense of ease.

Marley, partly scorched and partly drenched, cast a frustrated gaze at Rie and Seti, who were causing chaos, as well as the disheveled garden.
Eventually, with a flushed face, Marley marched towards Geo, who was engrossed in conversation with the workers at the corner of the garden.

“Brother! Hurry up and come here!”

 

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