A Date To Remember Chapter 1

By Mwinzi

"So how was it?" asked Lucca, a superior grin lighting her features.

Marle innocently raised an eyebrow in response. "How was what?"

"Oh, don't give me that, Marle," Lucca scolded. "I know you remember our agreement, and it's high time you fulfilled your end of the bargain."

Marle groaned and rolled her eyes; she knew full well what Lucca wanted to hear about. "Do I really have to tell you now? I wasn't expecting to have to do it so soon." She pouted, knowing it was unlikely to get Lucca to change her mind, but she figured it was worth a shot. After all, it worked so nicely on everyone else.

Lucca merely sat back and grinned again, having yet to play her trump card. "I suppose you'd rather wait until the king is around?"

"No, I suppose you’re right. No time like the present." As much as Marle hated to admit it, she knew Lucca was right. It was better to get it out of the way while no one else was around. She sighed as she collected her thoughts, trying to figure out where best to start. "Remind me again why I made this bargain with you," she grumbled.

"Because, Marle dear, I'm smarter than you, and you know it." Lucca laughed cockily and Marle grimaced in response. One of these days, I’ll get her, she thought to herself. Seeing no other way around it, Marle took a deep breath and began.

An early morning haze blanketed the kingdom of Guardia, giving Guardia Forest an ethereal, almost otherworldly beauty. Residents of the nearby Truce Village would often speak of mornings such as this one, praising the lovely morning scene. They should see the view from up here, the crown prince of Guardia thought to himself as he looked out at the forest from one of Guardia Castle's massive towers. It was the first time he had ever seen it--he couldn’t remember the last time he was awake at such an early hour. But he had preparations to make. Reluctantly, he tore his eyes away from the breathtaking vista in front of him and reviewed his to-do list in his mind. He quickly checked his appearance in the mirror on his way out, decided he looked regal enough without his crown, and fixed a few loose strands of hair as he dashed down the stairs.

As he passed through the main hallway, he couldn’t help but be amazed at all the activity that was going on around him. There were servants everywhere, all of them busy with something. Some were carrying bundles of cloth--he assumed this was clean laundry--to various rooms around the castle. Some were hard at work scrubbing down the floors and walls. Others merely rushed about to finish tasks in other parts of the castle. But despite all the activity, there was very little noise, apart from the sounds of footsteps. The prince mused over the buzz for a while; he'd always known that the servants had needed to get an early start, but he wasn’t used to seeing so many of them. To think I’ve been sleeping through all of this the entire time. He shook his head and pushed his way around the corner and into the kitchen.

The kitchen was no less busy than the main hallway, but as soon as the prince opened the door, his senses were bombarded by a maelstrom of information. The sound of rattling dishes echoed throughout the stone hall and shattered the relative silence of the hall, while a bevy of tantalizing aromas assaulted the prince's nose. As he usually did upon entering the kitchen, he stood there for a few seconds simply letting the smells flow past him, identifying each one and savoring it. Hm. Coffee, apple pudding, roast tubers, and.... Aw, man! They would be having the yellowtail tonight. He screwed up his face in disappointment; he'd always been fond of fish, and it looked like he'd be missing out on this particular meal. Oh, well, he consoled himself, this weekend will be worth a couple of missed meals. Even if they are some of my favorites. Thus reassured, the prince began making his way to the back of the kitchen.

"Good morning, Prince Crono!"

Crono blinked in surprise; it had been over three months since he had moved into the castle, but he still couldn't get used to his new title of Crown Prince of Guardia. In his own mind, he was still very much the village boy from Truce, even though his appearance spoke otherwise. At times he still remained unsure of himself; he couldn't quite see himself as king of Guardia, and consequently he questioned his right to hold the position. This only served to convince everyone else that he was the most competent man for the job; something Crono never could understand. But eventually he began to relax his doubts. After all, the castle staff was highly dedicated, and if he did make a mistake, well, someone would be around to help him out. The various staff members liked him well enough, even if some of them found his antics rather trying. Crono chuckled to himself, knowing that his behavior was one of the most oft-voiced complaints. I really should be nicer, but it's just too much fun.

"Good morning, Chef Tei!" Crono responded in a perfect mockery of the chef's greeting.

Tei sighed and rolled his eyes skyward. When he'd heard about Princess Nadia’s unofficial engagement; he'd assumed that the new prince would be able to exert a stabilizing influence on the princess and help bring about a semblance of order. Unfortunately, Crono--Prince Crono, the chef corrected himself--only seemed to encourage Princess Nadia and her wild behavior. So now there were two rebellious and fiercely independent teenagers running about the castle wreaking their own brand of havoc.

Not that Tei particularly minded; he very much liked the boy, and had a great deal of respect for him. Some of the castle staff had expressed fears that the two youngsters would prove to be irresponsible rulers, and that the kingdom would fall apart once the current king passed on. Tei did not join in this consensus. He was of the opinion that, given a little time and maturity, the prince and princess would grow to become excellent monarchs who would guide the kingdom through a golden age of prosperity. Part of him wished they'd hurry it up a little to ease the discontented murmurings. But he decided that until that day came, he'd enjoy the delightfully informal relationship he shared with the young couple.

He bowed obediently, having long ago come to the realization that he certainly wasn't going to be able to change Prince Crono’s behavior for any reason. "What can I do for you today, young master?" he asked, with just the proper touch of respect.

Crono opened his mouth to answer, then thought better of it as an idea popped into his head. Chuckling inwardly, he drew himself up to his full height and announced in a grand voice, "The king has charged me with the duty of guarding the princess on her excursion to inspect the lands south of the bridge. I will be requiring provisions for the journey, and I trust you will be able to provide me with the necessary supplies."

Tei grinned to himself, deciding that two could play at this game. Carefully hiding his own amusement, he bowed low, averting his eyes. "Certainly. What sort of provisions will His Highness require?"

Crono's eyes gleamed even as he raised an eyebrow in mock anger. "Surely a man in your position should be able to answer that question for himself."

"M-my lord! Forgive me; I mean no disrespect, of course, but I don't see how I could be expected to--"

"You dare to question my judgment?"

"C-certainly not, my lord...."

"Then perhaps you are insufficiently qualified for your position. I've had my eye on you for quite some time, you know. You thought you could get away with all your little failings without me noticing, did you? Well, you thought wrong! How you ever attained this position is quite beyond me, because it's obvious to me that any idiot from any town on the continent could do a better job!"

"My lord, please--"

"Silence! Insolent fool! Be gone from the castle this instant, before I have you thrown in the dungeon!"

"...As His Majesty commands..."

Tei sighed to himself and started shambling over to the door, dragging his feet dejectedly, when Crono suddenly burst out laughing, slapping his knee in mirth. "Ah, Tei, you win this one; I can't keep this up any longer." The chef smiled slightly, and Crono explained the situation, still chuckling appreciatively. "Marle and I are having a picnic at Fiona's Forest over the weekend." Tei blinked, then remembered that the princess preferred the name Marle over Nadia. 'Less stuffy', was her excuse. Crono continued, "We already cleared it with the king and the chancellor. So we'll be needing something portable, non-perishable, and delicious. Think you can handle that?" he asked challengingly.

Tei smiled and bowed again. "Certainly, young master," he said amiably.

Crono grinned in response. "Knew I could count on you. I'll be back later this morning to pick it up. My thanks." The chef nodded, and Crono headed back upstairs, a slight bounce in his step.

When he got to the main hallway, he noticed a sizable group of servants standing off to one side, looking at him anxiously. He blinked in confusion, wondering what had happened to cause such apprehensiveness. Oh. They must have heard all the yelling earlier. Heh. Can I act or what? As he came to this realization, he broke into a wry grin. The servants stood there, staring mutely in shock. One of the maids let out a disgusted sigh, and the tension dissolved as the group broke up, heading off to do their various duties, muttering about the prince's ill-timed levity. Crono let out a short bark of laughter and continued on his way, still grinning in amusement.

"Ah, that Crono. He's always been a riot. But I don't see what this has to do with--"

"I'm getting there, Lucca," Marle interrupted. "If you want to hear about it, I'll tell you, but you have to let me do it in my own fashion, or you're not hearing anything."

Lucca grumbled halfheartedly, and Marle continued.

Crono made his way through the castle, arranging for the rest of the provisions before heading up the tower to Marle's room. Upon arriving, he knocked seven times and waited patiently. Shortly afterwards, the door opened, and Crono found himself looking into the sea-blue eyes of the princess of Guardia. She yawned and smiled at him, and Crono couldn't help but smile back. In his eyes, she was the most beautiful person in the world, and it seemed to him that he fell deeper in love with her each time he saw her. His expression softened and he greeted her cheerfully.

Marle rubbed her eyes as she leaned into him, moaning softly. "Oh, Crono... Aren't you tired? It's still so early..."

Crono smiled down at her and ruffled her hair affectionately. "Hey, now, I'm not rubbing off on you, am I? You always used to be a morning person." He thought back fondly to the adventures of a few months back, remembering how Marle and Lucca would bawl him out for sleeping so much. It wasn't the only thing they gave him trouble over; he'd had his share of disagreements with the two of them. Crono was quite convinced that if their parents had witnessed the fights and arguments he and his friends had indulged in, they'd have fainted in horror. But despite all of their differences and spats, Crono knew he couldn't ask for better friends than the perky, tomboyish princess and the jocular, brilliant scientist.

Marle smiled shyly, also remembering the grief she and Lucca used to give their leader. "I don’t know. I guess you are." She giggled and continued, "I was just so excited about today that I didn't sleep well."

"Careful, now. That's exactly how my morning started that day."

Marle didn’t have to ask what day Crono was talking about; there was no way she could ever forget. She had snuck out of the castle, intending to have a day of fun at the Millennial Fair. While dashing about looking for something to do, she bumped into a boy from the nearby Truce Village, who was equally distracted. Their chance meeting set in motion a number of momentous events that changed their lives in more ways than either of them could have imagined. She never would have expected she'd meet the future love of her life that day. Nor did she ever expect to travel across time. And yet she'd done both of those, and many more fantastic things that were difficult even for her to believe.

Some of her memories were happy ones. She had made some lifelong friends and shared some wonderful times with them. Some of her memories were not so happy--she still cringed every time she thought of the kingdom of Zeal. But one thing that couldn't be denied was that the day she met Crono was the day her life took a completely unexpected turn. "Well, I don't expect we'll run into any trouble this time," she said pragmatically. "Everything's at peace, and Lucca assured me that all the timegates were closed permanently. What could possibly go wrong?"

"Well, nothing, I hope. Just ribbing you a bit, is all." The two of them exchanged a tender look, and Marle yawned. "Still tired? Well, I've got something to tell you that should help wake you up." And so Crono related his encounter with Tei earlier that morning, and was rewarded by the melodic sound of Marle's laughter.

"Crono!" she scolded. "I can't believe it; you probably gave them all the fright of their lives! I swear, you're worse than I am!"

Crono grinned. "This from the girl who snuck into the chancellor's quarters and--"

"I'm going to have to ask you to leave for a bit while I change," Marle interrupted quickly, not wanting to relive the embarrassment she had gone through over that particular incident. "Besides, shouldn't you change too? I don't think the forest will be very good to what you have on now."

His eyes still glinting with amusement, Crono looked down at his white robes and chuckled. "Yeah, I probably should. I guess I'm getting used to life here; these clothes feel so natural now."

Marle rolled her eyes. "I can't see how. I still feel odd wearing a gown, and I've had a lot more time to get used to it." She shook her head, unable to comprehend how Crono had managed to grow accustomed to palace life so quickly. "Anyway, I'll meet you at the door in just a few minutes." Crono nodded and took his leave, and Marle began to dig through her wardrobe looking for informal wear.

"Hey, wait a minute. I don’t think I've ever heard about this particular incident. What did you do in the Chancellor’s quarters?"

Marle stuck her tongue out at Lucca spitefully. "I have no intention of ever telling you. It's bad enough that Crono found out about it; I'm not letting anyone else find out."

Lucca grinned wickedly. "Oh, why ever not? I already know about the time that Sister Macha fell asleep and you--"

"Lucca, please!" Marle cried, exasperated. "This is embarrassing enough as it is; I don’t need you making it worse!"

"Oh, all right then. I’ll be good." Lucca held up her right hand solemnly, and Marle nodded, mollified. As she watched Marle gather her thoughts, Lucca smiled to herself. After all, she'd had her fingers crossed, and she knew there was no way Marle could have known. Still smiling, she waited patiently for the princess to continue telling the story.

Sometime later, Marle found herself standing by the castle door trying very hard not to look bored. As near as she could tell, it had been more than half an hour since Crono had left her room, and he still wasn't ready. She'd fully expected to find that he would be waiting for her. The princess was notorious for her indecisiveness about little things. She spent a great deal of time looking through her wardrobe, eventually deciding on a loose-fitting shirt and pants in a soft shade of green. Her hair was tied back loosely, and she'd eschewed her sandals in favor of a good pair of boots. She grimaced to herself, remembering how much her feet had hurt after crawling through the ruins that were the old future. If I'd known then that I was going to be hiking through a wasteland, I'd have been sure to pack sturdier clothing.

Where is he, anyway? she wondered to herself. He's never been one to waste time, and the stars know what he'd be doing now. He's been looking forward to this as much as I have, so what could possess him to dilly-dally like this? She sighed heavily, crossing her arms and tapping her foot in an attempt to release the tension she was feeling. One of the guards raised an eyebrow at her, and she smiled back in what she hoped was an ingenuous fashion; she hated it when people pussy-footed around her. But as time went on, she found it difficult to keep up the pleasant facade. If he keeps me waiting much longer, he's going to have a lot of explaining to do.

As if in response, the door leading to the upper towers opened, and out walked Crono, trying valiantly and failing to carry three large packs of supplies. As she watched his antics, Marle forgot her anger and ran up to help him. "Crono!" she scolded, as she reached down to pick up the bag he had just dropped. "Honestly, why didn't you just make two trips? It would have been a lot faster."

Crono looked down and flushed, giving his very best impression of a kid caught with one hand in the cookie jar. "Well..." he began.

"You were trying to show off again, weren't you?" Marle let out a disgusted sigh and shook her head. "You can be such an idiot sometimes, you know that, Crono?"

To this, Crono had no reply. With a sheepish grin adorning his face, he shouldered the second pack, grabbed the last one, and extended a hand to Marle. "Shall we be off, then?"

"If you're sure you've got everything." Marle retorted, eyeing the packs Crono was carrying. "What all did you pack, anyway?"

"Not all that much," he assured her, counting off on his fingers absently. "Two days worth of meals, two sleeping bags, a couple of blankets, some coats in case it gets cold, and some device Lucca built. She said it would ward off insects."

"And you trust her?" Marle asked, backing away from Crono as though he were a poisonous snake, nearly tripping over the stairs. She looked at the bag she was holding and dropped it in alarm, trying to shrink into herself.

"Well, the Gate Key and Telepod both worked the way they were supposed to, didn't they?" Crono shrugged amiably and continued. "Yeah, I've seen some of her inventions blow up, but for the most part, they work pretty well. I don't think this'll be a problem."

Marle hesitated, still half expecting the pack to blow up or start moving around on its own, but she swallowed her anxiety and picked the pack up again. "Well, you've known her for longer than I have. But if something does happen, it'll be your fault." Crono nodded fervently, and Marle laughed in spite of her earlier trepidation. "Ah, I'm so lucky to have someone as devoted as you. Well then, if there's nothing else, let's go!" Crono extended his hand again, Marle took it, and together the two of them waltzed out of the castle and into the bright sunlight that was already evaporating the last of the morning mist.

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