“Lucerne, I assure you I am well now.
It was merely a distressing dream, so you may return.”

“No, as a precaution, everyone shall remain until the examination is complete,” Lucerne replied firmly.

Upon Lucerne’s words, the children, courtiers, and Calib nodded in agreement, acknowledging the importance of ensuring my well-being.

Dipeume meticulously examined my body, taking his time to ensure a thorough assessment.
After a while, he withdrew his hand, rising from his position and stepping back.

“To His Majesty’s astonishment, Lady Astia is in remarkably good health,” Dipeume announced, his voice filled with surprise and relief.

“In that case… Are you truly well? I cannot believe it,” Lucerne questioned, his concern evident in his voice.

“Yes, it appears that the cause of her distress was mental exhaustion,” Dipeume replied.

“Psychologically… I see,” Lucerne’s face contorted in anguish.

“Is it because of Henry? I apologize, Astia,” Lucerne’s voice carried a mixture of regret and concern.
My heart fluttered at his apologetic gesture, his touch cold on the tip of my nose.
I yearned to reassure him that there was no need for him to apologize.

The children stood by his side.

“Mom, were you unwell because of those wicked people?”

“Ah-oh! I should have blasted them away with my mightiest punch yesterday!”

“Next time they come, hide behind me.
I will protect you!”

“Ouch! Let’s make it three times as painful for them!”

If experiencing happiness brought the possibility of death, could it be that this is what it feels like?

Eventually, tears streamed down my face, surprising everyone present.

“Oh no! Please don’t cry!”

“Mom, where does it hurt? Mister! Doctor Uncle!”

“This is peculiar.
There doesn’t seem to be any discomfort.”

“Dipeume, perhaps you secretly long to see bloodshed.”

“Bad Uncle! If you lie, you won’t get a present on your birthday!”

I cherished those who were restless, angry, and worried because of me.
Unable to even wipe away my tears, this time I burst into laughter.

“Don’t say anything to Uncle.
Mom is only slightly unwell.
These tears are tears of joy.”

“Hmm… Being happy feels good.
It feels really, really good.”

“Then, that’s wonderful.”

“Why? You had a bad dream.
But why are you happy?”

“Because you all cared about your mother.
I’m happy because I’m grateful for that.”

“Grateful? Does being grateful make you happy? Do you cry when you’re happy?”

“I understand.
I’m crying because I’m happy.
This is the first time your mother has ever experienced something like this.”

The eyes of the children and Lucerne shimmered.
Lucerne and the children had different eye colors and hair colors, but in this moment, their expressions resembled those of real parents and children.


“My mother is happy.”

“Yeah, Mom says she’s in a very good mood.”

“Wow, this is the first time I’ve heard Mom speak like this.”

“Uh! Mom, ask me too!”

The children held onto me tightly, their faces flushed with excitement, demanding an answer.

I happily obliged their request.

“Geo, Marley, Lie, Seti.
How are you feeling now?”

“I’m happy! Making her happy makes me happy too!”

“Me too, Mom.
I want to continue taking care of you and worrying about you from now on!”

“Me too! I want to be the best mom in the world!”

“And I want hamburgers!”

I gathered the children in my arms all at once and nuzzled my face against their sweet-smelling hair.

There had been many joyful moments since Astia entered my life, but at this very moment, I felt truly content.
It was enough to dispel any lingering unease from the dream I had last night.

Even after Caleb took the children out and the ladies-in-waiting and palace doctors departed, Lucerne remained by my side.
He sat there silently, like a guardian.
Every time I shifted and the duvet became dishevelled, he would painstakingly straighten it out.

A different kind of emotion stirred within him compared to when he embraced the children.

Outside the window, the lunchtime bell chimed.

“Lucerne, I’m perfectly fine now.
You should return to your duties after having lunch.”

“There’s no need for that.
I don’t mind.”

“But it’s necessary.
You’re the emperor.”

“I may be an emperor, but I haven’t become a good one yet.
It’s not worthwhile to leave you unattended while I focus on my duties.”

“But… …”

Dipeume said you’re fine, but just to be on the safe side, you should rest a little longer.”

“I really am fine.
It was just a nightmare, and I happened to talk in my sleep.”

Lucerne shook his head.

“I apologize if it makes you uncomfortable, but I can’t simply ignore it now.
I was negligent.
It seemed strange how you recovered so quickly from such a serious illness.
I said they would protect you and brought you to the imperial palace, yet you have faced hardship.”

“What are you talking about? I am… …”

I trailed off and took a deep breath, as if I were stifling a cough.

After arriving at the imperial palace, Lucerne’s sweet words echoed in my mind.
Though he hadn’t directly confessed, I recalled how he had stayed by my side, radiating happiness, joy, and excitement.

“I won’t leave you alone anymore.”

Those words weighed heavily on me.

In an impulsive moment, I reached out and touched Lucerne’s finger on the edge of the bed.

His eyes flickered with intensity.

“Astia, now…!”

“Just being here with you in the imperial palace is enough to make me happy.
Lucerne, you have nothing to apologize for.”

The apologies should come from me.

I swallowed the first part of my sentence and continued with the rest.

“So please don’t speak like that.”

“Then I’m glad.”

Lucerne’s face lit up with joy as our fingers touched, reassured by the knowledge that I was happy.

I could no longer contain the overwhelming urge welling up inside me.

“…Lucerne, I have a question.”


“Whoever I may be…will you…love me?”

My voice quivered with the weight of that unfamiliar word.

As always, Lucerne answered without a hint of hesitation.

“You speak for granted.”

“If I were to lose my memory, would you still accept me even if I looked like a completely different person from the original Astia?”

“Of course.”

“Do you promise?”

“I promise.”

“Do you swear?”

“I swear.
I would risk my life if necessary.”

Lucerne’s words came to a halt.

No, don’t stop there, Lucerne.
I need reassurance.

I asked again, making my intentions clear.

“Please swear that you will love me unconditionally, or be willing to let me go.”

The absence of Astia, a fear that surpasses even death for Lucerne.
I want to hold onto his love, even if it means taking the risk.
Just as he kept Astia by his side for the sake of their children’s well-being.

After a moment, Lucerne nodded solemnly.

“I swear, Astia.
I, Lucerne Stria, Emperor of Stria, pledge to love you always with the same fervour.
If I were to ever change my mind, you have my permission to let go.”

“Thank you, Lucerne.”

I’m sorry, Astia.
I want to cherish this life.

Carefully, I released the guilt that had weighed heavily on my heart.
I confessed my feelings for Lucerne, which I had tried to conceal, and became intoxicated by the euphoria of experiencing love for the first time in my life.

I gently squeezed Lucerne’s fingers that were intertwined with mine.

“Lucerne, I also have feelings for you.”


Lucerne’s opal-coloured eyes sparkled brilliantly, and his fingers, curled around mine, emitted warmth.

Astia, I want to live as you.
I want to live in this world with the love of this remarkable man and our adorable children, in your place.

I don’t know the reasons behind the decisions you made that kept you apart from Lucerne and caused hardships for your children.
But I have come to love these people.
I want to cherish them and give them all the love they deserve, as they have loved and accepted me wholeheartedly.

But can I truly be okay? After all, you… you’re already gone.

* * *

On a sunny autumn day, with daylight illuminating the surroundings, I and the children gathered in the garden behind the Imperial Palace.
Seated around a table, we indulged in sweet snacks, sipped fragrant tea, and engaged in lively conversation.

Dipeume and the children’s attendants observed us from a distance, while Calib attended to our needs.
Asilis and her attendants were nowhere to be seen.

Calib wore a benevolent smile as he poured the tea and informed the children that the red flowers adorning the garden were called ‘Sangsahwa’.

Taking a sip of tea, I glanced at the field of blooming roses.

“It seems like the gardening was completed early.
The flowers are already so beautiful.”

“This garden isn’t new.
It was created when His Majesty first ascended the throne, and the red flowers always bloom in autumn.”

“A garden created when Lucerne became Emperor?”

“When he learned about a flower called Sangsahwa, he immediately had it planted here.”

Did Lucerne have a fondness for the color red, just like Astia?

I didn’t anticipate it to be significant, but my heart sank upon hearing Caleb’s following words.

“He wasn’t originally fond of flowers.
He once remarked how it’s absurd to fixate on a plant’s reproductive system.
However, when he learned the meaning of Sangsahwa, he immediately had it planted in the garden.”

“What is the meaning?”

“It signifies an unrequited love.”

For a brief moment, I could feel Caleb’s gaze on me.
He believed that Lucerne’s love for Astia would never be reciprocated.

The vibrant and beautiful red flowers, blooming abundantly in the expansive garden, now appeared melancholic.

What did Lucerne think when he beheld these flowers each year? Did he associate Sangsahwa with the woman he couldn’t be with? Did he perceive any resemblance between Sangsahwa and myself?

But it doesn’t matter.
Because I will love Lucerne.
There is no longer an Isaac, nor an Astia who rejected Lucerne.

“Now, shouldn’t we remove it…? Why leave this garden untouched when all the other gardens have been tended to?”

“Well, His Majesty believes that the time isn’t right.
He explicitly instructed me never to disturb this garden.”

“Isn’t it time, though?”

What are you implying? I’ve even confessed my feelings for you while being by your side.
Why can’t we let go of this ‘unattainable love’? Am I still uncertain in my own mind? I pondered what Lucerne was thinking.
Both of us felt a sense of sorrow.
It was disheartening.

At that moment, an attendant approached Calib and whispered something in his ear.
Calib nodded and dismissed the attendant.

“His Majesty has finished his morning duties.
He will be arriving shortly.”

“Ah, I see.”

I swiftly collected my thoughts and adjusted my posture.

The purpose of summoning Lucerne and the children today was to formally introduce Lucerne to them.

Ever since the Duke and Duchess of Henry visited, the children discovered that Lucerne was the ‘tyrant Emperor Lucerne’ and deliberately kept their distance from him.

During my illness, they stood by Lucerne and interacted with him, most likely due to the urgency of the situation.
However, afterward, they became cautious even when mentioning his name.

This meeting was something I deemed necessary, but as the moment approached, I felt a surge of nervousness.
Will the children be able to overcome their fear of Lucerne and establish a connection with him? Is it my excessive desire for all the people I love to coexist happily?

The chattering children fell silent as Lucerne emerged from around the corner of the imperial palace.
The atmosphere around the tea table instantly quieted down, as if a cold wave had washed over us.

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