The Sentinel Chapter 2
An Evening at the Palace
The droning hum of voices and the clatter of silverware striking plates filled the royal dining hall. There were two separate tables - one on a small platform, at which the king and the representatives of Porre and Choras assembled - and the other, a longer table where Crono and Lucca sat, alongside various court members and upperclassmen who'd decided to attend. The tables formed an elongated T. Crono and Lucca were sitting farthest away from the king's table, but closest to a platform at the end of the T arrangement where Marle said she'd give her speech. Their friend did not seem to take a place during the dinner, but instead wandered back and forth between her father's table and their own.
Lucca ripped a piece of bread and swirled it drowsily over the last puddles of sauce on her plate. After putting the savory bite in her mouth, she peeked across the table at Crono. He had gobbled down the past four courses without breaking a sweat, while Lucca was full almost immediately after the appetizers. She still continued to eat, despite her bursting stomach. She watched him shovel a forkful into his mouth and suddenly remembered the eating contests they used to have when they were children. She recalled one summer, when they were very young, they had tried to eat a whole watermelon at once. A few hours later, both of them were very sorry and she had vowed never to eat a watermelon again. Lucca inwardly snickered at the memory. If they were to have contest now, Crono would certainly win. Even so, she was determined to at least have a bite of dessert
"When is Marle going to make her speech?" Crono asked suddenly, but not looking up from his plate.
Lucca leaned back in her chair and sighed contentedly.
"Oh after we get our dessert, I think. That way she'd have everyone's undivided attention."
Crono nodded. He peered over the length of their table at the one beyond, where Marle was currently sitting next to her father. He had noticed another girl sitting among the group of men and women from Choras. Besides Crono and Lucca, and a very small child sitting with the Porre women, this girl was the only other youth at the dinner.
Earlier that evening, when Crono had looked to their table, he caught the girl looking at him. She held his gaze for a moment, but turned away and looked as if she no longer found him interesting. The girl talked to both the Choras and Porre citizens, but did not appear to say anything directly to the king or Marle.
"Do you know who that is, Lucca?"
She blinked out of her daze, and gave him a puzzled look.
"The girl sitting up there," he replied, nodding to the other table.
Lucca strained to see over the several bent forms blocking her view. The girl was sitting on Lucca's side, so it was difficult to catch a glimpse without looking conspicuous. Eventually, a view opened. There, she saw a pretty, dark-haired girl gesticulating to a servant. A delicious-looking dessert was being served. Lucca glanced at Marle, who was sitting behind a half-empty plate and fanning herself ineffectively with her hand. She looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"Hmmm you know, I don't know," she admitted softly. "I don't think we've seen her before."
"I think she knows us, though. She keeps looking down here," he said.
"At us .or at youuu, Crono?" Lucca asked teasingly.
He gave her a slightly amused, skeptical look, and playfully flicked a bread crumb at her. The crumb fired across the table and harmlessly bounced off the lens of Lucca's glasses.
Before Lucca could tease him more, a tray of assorted desserts was hastily set between them. She quickly forgot her witticisms - her appetite rekindled - and eagerly helped herself to the treats.
Marle rose from her seat after her father signaled to her that everyone was mostly done eating. The other members of her table looked up curiously, expectantly.
"Are you going to make the presentation, now?" a Porre woman asked, in jest, referring to the previous times the princess had stood up to go visit her friends.
Marle's father chuckled.
"Yes, why don't we hear a little from you now, dear?"
Everyone at the table gave her encouraging smiles and nods.
"Okay, Dad," she chirped, grinning widely at the woman's joke.
Marle was very pleased with how the dinner had progressed. Everyone seemed to be in a wonderful mood. With all the happy, well-fed listeners, her speech would be a piece of cake. It would have been perfect, though, if she didn't have the strange lightheaded feeling that developed about halfway through the meals. Marle guessed she was nervous, but somehow that didn't seem right. She had made many speeches before, and at dinner parties much larger than this one. In fact, before she made those speeches, Marle recalled she was very excited and energetic. The feeling she had now was slightly weary almost exhausting. Even so, Marle knew her responsibility was to make the appearance, and if worse came to worse, she could always be brief.
Marle approached the end of the long table, walking up behind Crono's seat. He gave her an encouraging nod, and Lucca signed a thumbs-up. Marle grinned - at least she would have her friends right there beside her. That should make it especially easy.
She approached a wooden podium set on a small platform, some feet away from her two companions. A red cloth bearing the Guardian crest hung over the edge, reminding her of how important her duty was. She would have to speak loud - there wasn't a microphone to amplify her voice - but not too loud, given that there were only two tables of guests. Marle gripped the edges of the podium and waited for the last of the voices to hush.
"Good evening, my welcomed friends and guests!" she piped, smiling broadly. "I sincerely hope all of you enjoyed the dinner. Let us all be reminded that the food provided for was the fruit of all of our peoples' hard work - from the farmers and merchants of Porre and Choras - to our own chefs here in the castle ."
"Here, here!" a few men at the long table shouted. They pounded their fists on the table and laughed heartily.
Marle beamed and waited patiently for the after-noise to silence.
"Let me also remind you of the purpose of this wonderful dinner. My time as the future queen is swiftly emerging before my eyes. I wanted to share with you - the representatives of Porre and Choras, as well as the other esteemed guests present - a small speech, of how I plan to responsibly, and successfully, perform as the new queen of this prosperous kingdom ."
Lucca watched her friend speak with silent admiration. Marle looked completely at ease being the center of attention. She spoke with bold confidence, as if she knew all her plans and ideas were a certainty of the future and guaranteed to be helpful to everyone. And Lucca thought, if there is anyone that could in reality, truly do all of that, it would be Marle. Lucca peered over at Crono, who had his elbows on the table, and was resting his chin over his clasped fists. The awe and pride for his friend was written unmistakably on his face. Lucca thought she detected something else, though, in his expression - something only noticeable through the smallest nuances of his gaze. Was it nostalgia? Longing? She wouldn't ask him about it, although she had an inkling of what it could possibly be. For now, at least, it wasn't any of her business.
Marle talked more, varying her voice tones perfectly so as to keep everyone listening and entertained. She began to speak of specific projects she had, and when any of them sounded like a particularly good idea, cheers would rise from the tables.
Some moments later, Lucca noticed that Marle was struggling. She was still cheerful and animated, but to herself and Crono, who knew her very well, it seemed somewhat forced. It would be imperceptible to the guests who didn't know her personally, and to her father who was sitting farther away. Lucca sat up warily in her chair. It was a very subtle distinction, but something was wrong.
" Another idea occurred to me while traveling with my friends. I plan to have two new ferries - both would be harbored on the Choras continent, and would run from there to the Guardia and Porre continents. Although it could be pricey, common people will most definitely benefit from the more accessible means of travel, and the new ships will pay for themselves many times over. What's more, it would strengthen the unity between all three continents, and the citizens of Choras would be able to enjoy all the fairs and holiday festivals celebrated here in Guardia."
Murmurs of agreement rose from the Choras guests. Marle saw her father nod his head proudly at her, encouraging her to continue. She looked at Lucca when she noticed her friend shifting anxiously in her seat, a concerned expression etched on her face. Am I that obvious? Marle wondered. Her lightheadedness had not gone away. In fact, it had worsened. Her legs were trembling, as were her hands, but thankfully the podium was there to hide them. Marle concluded now that she must be sick, much to her bitter disappointment. She wouldn't be able to go out with her friends that night if her condition didn't improve. Her vision was slightly blurred - Crono's spiky red hair looked fuzzy, and Lucca's glasses were two shining orbs. Marle cleared her throat nervously. It was time to be brief.
"All of these suggestions I have made are open to changes or improvements, should anyone think of any. They will be considered in all seriousness, as it is my job to make this kingdom an even better place " Marle gulped, but managed a small smile. "Once again, I hope everyone enjoyed this evening. It was a small crowd, but lively and cheerful nonetheless. Thank you for being such an attentive, helpful audience, and listening to what I had to say . I have been raised from birth to be your leader, and it is a duty I will take seriously, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, and have a wonderful night! "
The tables erupted into vigorous applause. Marle bowed slightly from where she stood, then stepped from behind the podium and walked straight towards her friends.
Lucca stopped clapping and rose from her seat, walking slowly over to Marle. She saw her friend look at her, a visibly strained smile on her face.
"Marle? Is something wrong ?" she asked worriedly.
She saw Marle look over at Crono and blink several times. Then, unexpectedly, she lurched forward, crossing one leg over the other and nearly tripping herself. Out of the corner of her eye, Lucca saw Crono bolt from his seat and rush over to the swooning princess. A few of the servants standing around turned at the sudden rapid movement.
Crono held Marle by the shoulders, and beckoned to Lucca with his head. The young inventor quickly jogged over to her friends.
When she approached, Marle's head was down and she was gripping Crono's arms so tensely her fingers made dents in the cloth of his sleeves. She appeared to be hanging onto him as if he were a bolder in the middle of a raging river.
"I need to .lie down .sorry guys " she breathed. Her face scrunched up in anger and frustration. "This can't happen! Not now "
Lucca patted her friend on the back.
"Its okay, Marle! It's okay we've got a whole two weeks you'll feel better soon, I'm sure .now, what's wrong?"
Servants were making their way towards the threesome.
"What's going on? What's happening?" one of the maids called anxiously.
Lucca turned to face the questioner.
"The princess doesn't "
Then, as Crono shifted himself to look at the speaker, Marle's eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped forward, finally passing out. Crono backpedaled, struggling to regain his balance. After righting himself, he stood for a moment and slung one of her arms over his shoulder. He then scooped up her legs behind her knees and looked uneasily at Lucca.
" Doesn't, uh feel well," she finished.
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