The Sentinel Chapter 5
The Princess' Greatest Fear
Crono and Lucca once again stood outside the Guardia palace. It was early evening, and both of them were dreadfully tired from all the traveling they had done that day. Each were carrying small backpacks of instruments and medicines Lucca gathered from her house. Neither knew how they would get back into the palace, much less up to Marle's room, if she was sick and in no condition to see them. In any case, Lucca figured she would be able to find someone to help her - perhaps even Marle's father, if he wasn't busy. After a few minutes, the huge castle doors were slowly dragged open.
"What business do you have here?" a guard inquired, not moving out of the entranceway to let them in. "The princess is ill."
"We need to speak to her father. It is a very important matter, sir," Lucca replied, adjusting her glasses in a business-like manner.
"Is it?" a second guard asked, sounding unconvinced. "I'm afraid you will have to be more specific than that."
Lucca looked at Crono, somewhat surprised the guard had asked about their specific business. The boy stepped in front of her and fixed the guard with a grave stare.
"There are rumors going around the kingdom that the princess was poisoned. We are here to inform her father of this, and to prove the rumors false," he said.
The guards exchanged looks, and then the second turned to look at Crono. The sentry sighed exasperatedly.
"The king is looking into this matter already. I'm afraid we can't -"
"Wait!" came a voice, echoing through the halls.
Crono looked beyond the forms of the guards. He recognized the dark haired girl from the previous night. She stood atop the staircase directly in front of them, inside. Both of the guards turned at the command.
"Are you Crono and Lucca?" the girl asked, descending the stairs towards them.
The two friends exchanged puzzled looks.
"Yes, we are," Lucca replied.
The stranger addressed the two guards.
"The princess is expecting them. She told me to invite them in," she explained.
At this, the guards whispered among themselves, and then stepped aside from Crono and Lucca, granting them permission to pass.
"No one is allowed to see the princess," one of them said sternly. "Two guards were found unconscious this morning in the stairwell leading to the princess' chambers. Since then, no one but the king is allowed permission. Anyone found in her quarters will be suspect of treason."
Crono glanced at Lucca worriedly, then nodded at the guards. The companions faced the new girl, hesitantly waiting for her to speak.
"My name is Sabine I am the mayor's daughter from Choras," the girl said. "Let me take you someplace more private. There are things we need to talk about,"
The girl turned on her heal and began to walk back up the staircase from which she descended. Crono saw Lucca shrug and began to follow her up the stairs. He stole a quick peek at the guards, whose attention had returned to the doors, and then warily followed the two girls.
They passed the throne room, walking quietly by the king and a few advisors, all standing by his throne and listening to someone talk. Crono did not catch their conversation, but continued to follow Lucca and the girl when they turned into a door on the right side of the room. There was a short hall; Crono guessed this area of the castle was directly above the kitchen, and the room where the rainbow shell was kept. They turned a corner, now causing the hallway structure to mirror the corridors one floor below, where the family heirloom would have been a few yards ahead of them. To each of Crono's sides there were doors. He assumed these were the guest chambers.
They reached the end of the hall, where a tapestry of the Guardian crest hung over a dead end. The girl stopped and turned around. Her eyes met Crono's, appearing to be a little anxious. Then, she slipped one of her hands into a pocket of her dress, carefully shifted something, and brought it out. Crono's eyes widened in alarm when he saw the precious necklace resting in her outstretched palm. He resisted the urge to snatch it from her.
"How did you get this ?" he demanded.
"The princess gave it to me, and told me to show it to you," she said innocently. "She said if I delivered it to you you should trust me."
Crono relaxed after realizing his irrational distress, and nodded his understanding. He gently took the pendant from her hand and fastened it around his neck, then tucked it into his shirt.
"Well, do you happen to know what those two guards were talking about back there?" Lucca asked. " The two guards being found unconscious earlier today?"
"Oh! Yes, I know what happened. Don't worry - it wasn't anything bad " she explained. "I'll tell you in a minute. First, I have to show you something."
Sabine turned to the Guardian tapestry, and slowly pulled it aside. She glanced quickly down the length of the hall before motioning to the stone bricks behind it.
"You can hardly tell, since an artist painted these with tremendous detail - even painting over a layer of sand on top to make them appear rough - but these bricks are actually a revolving wood door," she whispered. "It was locked from the inside, but I found this exit after entering another trap door in the princess's bedroom."
" Cool!" Lucca whispered excitedly. "So we're going to sneak up into Marle's room?"
" Marle? You mean the princess?" she asked, puzzled.
"Oh, yes. We call her Marle. Long story," Lucca said.
"Well, just follow me. You have to be very careful where you step - the passageways are still old in some places. And since we can't make any noise, I will tell you what happened with the guards in the princess's room."
The threesome pushed through the fake wall, and gently set the tapestry back to where it had been before closing the door.
Marle jolted out of her lethargic state when she heard loud shuffling and a thud come from her wall. The heavy book that had been resting on her chest tumbled into her lap as she sat up straight. Could that be Sabine? She didn't make that much noise Marle thought. The princess wriggled out of her bed sheets and walked quietly over to the armoire. She pulled one of the tall, thin doors open, and instantly found herself face to face with a startled Lucca.
"Oh! Heh, hey Marle!" Lucca chirped. The young inventor gingerly stepped out of the trap door. "That's a pretty nifty way of getting up to your room. I hope you don't mind -"
"Pshh - use it whenever you need to," Marle grinned. "I'm only sorry I hadn't told you guys about it before."
Lucca walked over to Marle's desk and dropped her backpack on the floor. She immediately crouched over to unzip it and take the contents out.
Following Lucca in Marle's armoire came Sabine, tugging her dress about her and lightly dropping into the room. The young girl exchanged a shy smile with Marle and brushed her hair over her shoulder.
"Well, here they are, princess. They were planning on seeing you this evening, but the guards told us all that no one is allowed to see you in your quarters. If they're caught up here well we could get in trouble,"
"What's this about two guards falling unconscious earlier today?" came Crono's voice. The boy writhed out of the passage door, drawing one broad shoulder out before the other. He stepped down and closed the narrow doors of the armoire behind him, looking at Sabine and Marle expectantly.
"Sabine knocked them out, with her bare hands!" Marle exclaimed, giggling at Crono's astonished look. "She came up to my room earlier today to tell me about what's happening in the palace between Choras and Porre -didja know they think I'm poisoned?"
"-That's exactly why we're here, Marle," Lucca called from the far side of the room. The others turned around to see a microscope and various other instruments and bottles sitting atop Marle's desk. "We're gonna make sure you really weren't poisoned - and find out if there is anything wrong with you."
Marle bit her lip nervously.
"Um what are you planning on doing to me?"
Lucca glanced over her shoulder and smiled before putting the last few items on the desk.
"Oh, it's a lot more complicated than it looks. Come over here - I'm afraid I need a blood sample, though,"
"A shot?!" Marle squealed. The princess clutched her shoulder protectively. "You know, I think the doctor was planning on giving me one of those some time - if I didn't get better tomorrow can't we wait?"
Lucca turned around and put her hands on her hips. She glared doubtfully at Marle from underneath her brow.
"C'mon Marle. I think we know you aren't going to suddenly wake up and be healthy again tomorrow," she said. "Now, really, its just a little shot. You've had much worse injuries during our adventure "
Marle felt herself being pushed gently by Crono over to her desk. Though she did realize she was overreacting to the idea of a shot, she actually trusted Lucca more than her doctor. If there were something wrong, she would figure it out and have her cured much faster than if she waited while the physician went through all the procedures and diagnosis with absurd precaution.
Marle grudgingly stood at her desk and waited for Lucca to assemble the injector pieces. She heard the whoosh of her blood pounding rapidly in her ears. What made battle injuries more tolerable was that they came unannounced, and very quickly. Standing in anticipation while Lucca fidgeted with the needle was making Marle feel slightly nauseous. The princess suddenly hoped she wouldn't faint again.
"Okay, Marley " Lucca cooed. "Just look away for a minute."
Marle jerked her head away when she felt a cool, damp cleaning cloth touch her shoulder. She looked at Sabine, who stood sympathetically with her arms behind her back; and Crono, who was smiling slightly and had his hand on her other shoulder.
"Try not to look so happy that it's not you, guys - OW!" Marle shrieked.
"Hold still," Lucca ordered.
After a painfully long moment, she removed the dreaded instrument from her friend's arm and smoothed a healing balm over it.
"Sorry, I can't give you a band-aid - your doctor will wonder where you got it from."
"Yeah, yeah " Marle mumbled, shrugging off the wobbliness of her joints.
"Okay! I'm gonna take this, and put it under heeerrre " Lucca muttered to herself, putting a small sample under her microscope. " and run a few tests. It might take a while - nobody is coming up here anytime soon, right?"
"I don't think so " Marle said tiredly.
"Princess, you look weary why don't you go back to your bed?" Sabine asked.
"I think I will," she replied.
Marle walked slowly back to her bed, closely followed by Crono. The boy grabbed a chair and set it next to her pillows. Sabine hovered by Marle's desk, marveling at all of Lucca's tools, occasionally asking the brainy girl what each one was for. Lucca was more than happy to explain to her the greatness of modern technology, and talked while she worked.
"We heard someone say in a restaurant that you were poisoned - and that the Choras and Porre citizens want to leave back for their continents, but that neither wants to be the first to leave, because that would seem suspicious," Crono explained to Marle as she got comfortable.
"Yes, Sabine came up here and told me that the Porre people suspect her of poisoning me, since she is close to my age and would be the next queen if something were to happen to me."
Crono shook his head.
"Nothing's going to happen to you when you get better, everyone will see how silly that rumor was. It will all be forgotten once the winter holidays start," he said.
Marle looked at him, realizing she should have more faith in her people. Perhaps it wouldn't be a big deal - maybe she was simply overreacting. She smiled softly.
"Thanks, Crono that really made me feel better," she said.
He nodded gladly.
Marle smiled happily at him, but felt her expression harden when her thoughts gradually turned more serious. She continued to look at him, while all of a sudden she felt an old, distant fear start to push itself insistently into her mind. She had kept this terror so oppressed that when she went about her daily life it seemed forgotten, inexistent - like a motionless snake at the bottom of a pond. Now, as it reared its daunting head, Marle was promptly gripped with panic. Crono's expression became concerned once he detected her distress. Her dark blue eyes began to glisten, reminding him of deep water.
"Crono do you know what I'm really afraid of? What scares me even more than Lavos?" Marle whispered, drawing her head closer to his. He gazed at her, now slightly alarmed. " Do you?"
Crono shook his head.
Marle stared at him for a moment, feeling her heart begin to thump rapidly in her chest as it had done a while earlier. She blinked, and then continued.
" I'm afraid of getting sick - and dying," she confessed. " If you're sick, and medicine can't make you better then you're utterly helpless. It's not like fighting Lavos, Crono - because you can't tell your body to fight, like you do in battle. You just have to sit there .and wait and-"
"Marle, calm down " he whispered. He reached out to comfort her.
"No!" she hissed. "Listen!"
Crono shrank back, thoroughly startled.
"I've always been afraid to get sick, ever since I learned that my mother died from pneumonia. That's a fairly common disease - most people get better from it. And that's also why I try to be such a tomboy, Crono - because I want to be healthy and active, and I can't sit around and be out of shape like a normal lady I feel like if I act like a lady, like a princess, that I'll be vulnerable to things "
She paused when she realized her hands were shaking. Marle felt ashamed to come off as a wimp in front of Crono, but that concern was at the back of her mind. Her terror flooded through her conscience like a thick fog - clouding out all of her logic and reason. Marle gasped as she felt herself succumb to panic and loose her last shred of self-control.
"Y-you and Lucca wont let anything happen to me right? Right, Crono?" Marle's fingers snagged the front of his shirt. She pulled him closer. "Crono?!"
Lucca's chair creaked from across the room when she abruptly turned around.
"Is everything okay over there?" she asked worriedly.
"I don't know " Crono mumbled, nervous and confused. He couldn't comprehend Marle's drastic change in mood. "I think she's having a panic attack "
Lucca pushed her chair aside and rushed over to Marle's bed. Sabine stayed where she was, sensing that a personal problem had arisen. Across the room, Lucca found the princess hyperventilating, as if she had just ran up a flight of stairs. Marle swooned and fell back against her pillows.
"Marle Marle! Calm down! We're here!" Lucca shouted at her. She clasped Marle's face between her palms. "Marle "
"Lucca!" the princess panted. She blinked several times, and groggily came to her senses. "What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing, you just had a, uh, panic attack," Lucca explained, trying to convince her that it was nothing to worry about.
"I've been testing your blood sample, and I don't see anything wrong with it. You have the appropriate mineral levels and I couldn't detect a poison or a virus " she babbled on.
"Oh " Marle breathed. "So I'm okay?"
Lucca exchanged a brief glance with Crono. He understood the message.
"I think so let me take your pulse real quick," she said.
Marle felt the mattress sink on one side as Crono sat down. He lifted her off the pillows and tenderly supported her against himself. The princess held out her wrist for Lucca to check her pulse. Crono watched Lucca anxiously. There was something she didn't want to say in front of Marle - he could tell by the tension in her face as she counted her friend's heartbeats.
"Okay thanks Marle," Lucca said quietly. "I think you better go to sleep and rest now. You got all worked up."
Marle looked up at her friends sadly.
"Are you going home?"
"Yes, I think we should. It will be dark soon," Crono told her. He patted her back reassuringly. "We'll come see you again in a day or two..."
"Oh okay " Marle sighed, looking downward - not bothering to hide her disappointment.
She felt Crono wrap his arms around her in a brief, understanding hug. For an instant, she felt warm and safe. Just as she was about to lean her head against his shoulder, he slowly took his arms away and stood up. Marle resisted the urge to pull him back to her.
Lucca watched her friend's pitiful look as Crono left her bedside to return his chair. The princess had the same stricken look of a child whose favorite toy had been taken away. Lucca grinned slightly at the image. The young inventor plopped cheerfully down beside her friend to exchange a quick, private word.
"I'll send him back up here as soon as possible," Lucca whispered, smirking slightly.
Marle looked up at her, a little surprised. Then, she lowered her eyes and smiled back.
"Okay," she said.
Lucca patted her shoulder and sprung off the bed. Crono was now waiting beside the trap door. Lucca turned to Sabine, who had slowly walked over to Marle's bed, and whispered.
"Stay here and keep her company for a while. Make sure she doesn't start panicking again. If she does just try to calm her down."
Sabine nodded solemnly.
Crono squeezed himself into the narrow door, and waited anxiously inside for Lucca. The girl dashed over to the princess's desk and hastily, but carefully, put her instruments in her backpack. After a few minutes, the two companions were both inside the passage door. Sabine walked over to close the armoire behind them.
"Bye Marle, See you soon!" Lucca called to her.
"Goodnight!" Crono shouted.
"Bye guys," she replied.
Lucca shuffled herself in the other direction when Sabine shut the doors. Pushing Crono forward, the two commenced their tricky descent from princess's chambers and then snuck quietly out of the palace.
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