I lowered my head and gave Vera a kiss on her forehead. She grabbed my face with her tiny hand. It was my first time seeing her smile so brightly. She desperately tried to kiss my face as I did to her. I picked her up. She moved her face close to mine and licked me. She then giggled as she hugged me.
Nona and Daisy, who were on the other side, watched me anxiously while making a scene for me to hold them. I noticed myself smiling brightly. Lucia sat to one side and watched me hold the girls whilst wearing a consoled smile herself. She softly said, “The girls really missed you. I couldn’t tell them where you were, so I could only comfort them. They couldn’t understand me, though; hence, they kept crying and making a ruckus…”
After a moment of lingering, I placed Daisy down and went over to Lucia’s side. I hugged her and she docilely leaned onto my chest. Daisy looked in our direction and shrieked, while Nona tried to reach us with all her might. Vera then began to cry. Lucia paused for a moment then got up to walk over to Vera. She wiped away Vera’s tears and softly laughed: “You hungry, Vera?”
Vera tugged on Lucia’s collar. Lucia undid her shirt with a smile and carried her back to my side. I noticed Vera flash a smug look at her sisters. Nona and Daisy looked stunned. I was utterly shocked. Vera took her time suckling.
“She’s not hungry at all! Wow… I can’t believe you’re aware of all this when you’re still just a kid… Vera is seriously frightening…” I realised.
I asked, “Lucia, what exactly happened in the palace? Why did I see such a large statue at Troy City made from pure gold? Who gave the order? I don’t believe Freya gave the order. Freya would never do something that foolish. Who was it? Who is the current ruler of the North?”
Lucia’s expression looked grim. She tried to find the words, but her expression turned grimmer, thereby worrying me.
“What exactly happened in the North? What’s going on in the palace?” I asked myself.
Nothing looked out of place in the Imperial Palace. I noticed the guards around me were still the same as usual. They still obeyed my commands, while the others didn’t seem to have changed. They were as calm as though nothing ever happened, but the statue at Troy City told me something happened. Otherwise, the people around me couldn’t possibly do such a thing!
“Lucia, tell me what exactly happened. The only place that can’t be in chaos in the North is the Imperial Palace. This is where you all reside; I must ensure your safety. There can’t be trouble in the Imperial Palace. Who exactly rules the North right now?!”
Lucia gave me a solemn answer: “Me.”
Lucia placed Vera aside. In an absolutely serious tone, she explained, “Your Highness, I, indeed, am the current ruler. I honestly did not want to do this. Freya initially acted as the regent, but she changed when you didn’t return. She killed lots of nobles and brought their money back. She collected taxes at high rates to erect enormous statues here and in Troy City. You wouldn’t believe it, but the design of the statue in the palace towered over the mountains. It was made with pure gold and inlaid diamonds. She even considered reproducing low anthropoids to speed up its construction. Gerald and company tried to talk her out of it, only for her to hurt them. If I didn’t stop her then the North would’ve been destroyed!”
I gave Lucia a nod. I took in a deep breath and replied, “Lucia, what you did was right. I believe what you said. Indeed, Freya cannot continue as Regent if she did those sorts of things; that would certainly destroy the entire North and Troy City. Lucia, you did a great job. You did the right thing. Originally, I didn’t believe Freya was behind it. She went too far. I must punish her. I’m going to send her back to Troy City to reflect!”
I was genuinely very angry. What Freya did was destroying the foundation of the entire North. The North was still unstable. The anthropoids and we were two different races. We used the nobles as a means of appeasing the people and building trust with them, which was why I didn’t lash out or complain despite them not lending me money last time. My purpose in the creation of laws was to stabilise the North in a controlled manner, but Freya ruined it all in just days.
Killing without reason, raising taxes, forcing people into labour and even wanting to reproduce low anthropoids are unforgiveable actions. How was Freya going to be a Regent when she did that? How would the nobles in the North work with us henceforth? Their influence was more significant than ours in the North! All I could do was pray she killed them cleanly.
Lucia smiled helplessly. She grabbed hold of my hand and, in a soft voice, said, “Don’t be too harsh, Your Highness. Freya must have caught wind of your return by now. She missed you so much that she changed, so she’d definitely be the first to go see you, but she hasn’t. She locked herself in her room, which means she already knows how severe her mistake was. She must be blaming herself and in anguish right now. Don’t be too harsh on her. She ended up that way, because she loves you. You’re her only family, so I hope you be gentle with her.”
I rubbed my face to calm myself down. What Freya did angered me enough to want to kill her. Lucia grabbed me and rubbed my face. Quietly, she explained, “Your Highness, be gentle when you go to her. Don’t make her feel too sad. She’s already sad enough as is. You’re her only family. I wouldn’t put suicide past her if you abandon her, too.”
I nodded: “Okay. But Lucia, why haven’t I seen Nier and Tanya? Where have they gone?”
Lucia tightened her hold on my hand: “They… went to search for you. Before you returned, we had a quarrel when we got together. Nier and Tanya then decided to go and search for you afterwards. I believed that you would definitely come back, and I also had to take care of the girls, so I stayed behind… It wasn’t that I wasn’t worried about you. Your Highness, I waited day and night for your return. I missed you every day… But I had to stay here to take care of the g-”
I pulled Lucia into my tight embrace before she could finish. Nier and company all left in my absence, so Lucia had to hold the palace together with all she had. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that everybody around me went crazy after I left. Nier abandoned her daughter to search for me; Vyvyan took me away; Mommy Elizabeth was severely wounded, and even Freya lost it. Lucia was the only one who maintained her composure. She, alone, held the North and palace together. How much did she suffer during my absence, I wondered. She had to keep everything together, take care of her and Nier’s children. In addition, she had to stop Freya from continuing to err. She was just an ordinary elf and an ordinary mother. Her mana was relatively inferior even in the elven lands.
I pulled her tightly into my chest and whispered, “It’s been hard on you, Lucia.”
Lucia jolted then she leaned onto me. She tightly gripped my arm and silently cried. I stroked her back: “Sorry, Lucia. I’ve made you suffer so much. I’m so sorry.”
Lucia had always been that way. She wasn’t good with words and wasn’t by my side every night, but she was always there to protect me whenever I was in trouble, and she’d always help me resolve all sorts of problems. She was always the first to step up to the platform when I needed someone. I think that was why I trusted Lucia and loved her so much.
Our romance seemed very plain and mundane, but neither of us would ever leave the other. We’d always go to each other’s side no matter who ran into trouble. Lucia once became a member of the Shadow Squad for my sake. Then, she ate grass and almost died. This time, she did her best for my sake to stabilise the North. She took care of three kids despite one not being hers.
“Don’t worry about it… Don’t worry about it… I’m your wife, Your Highness… I’m your wife… I should do this much… I can do anything for you…”
Lucia sniffled and blissfully rested on my chest.
While I wasn’t so faithful to her later on, Lucia continued to forgive me time and time again. Lucia loved me far too deeply, so deeply that she could forgive me for everything, stayed by my side no matter what and protected me at all times. I let Lucia down so many times and in so many ways.
Next to her ear and in a soft voice, I apologised: “Sorry, Lucia… Sorry… Lucia… Sorry…”
“No, I don’t mind Ying and Xia…”
“No… What I mean is… I might… die soon… very soon…”