A Winding Path
By Nico Turner
Crono walks up beside Marle, who is sitting at her desk, pen in hand, surrounded by books and stacks of paper that threaten to bury her. But she doesn't notice him. She is sound asleep with her head on the stack in front of her.
Crono taps her on the shoulder. She awakes with a start.
"No I'm studying! I'm not sleeping I swear!"
Marle finally focuses on Crono.
"Oh... It's you." she says, stifling a yawn and rubbing her eyes.
"Oh it's you??" Says Crono with mock incredulity. "That's all I get?"
Marle looks at him.
"Yup." she says.
Crono folds his arms and gives her his best pout, but she ignores him and turns back to her former pillow, giving it a disgusted look.
"You think maybe I absorbed it in my sleep or something?" she asks hopefully.
"What are you doing anyway?" Crono asks, trying to peer over her shoulder.
"Vilatese," Marle replies, "It's the language of a country to the south of Guardia."
She pretends to snore.
Crono scratches his head
"So you know HOW many languages now and you're learning MORE?"
Marle gives a tired nod.
"It's required," she sighs. "No sense having allied countries if you can't communicate with them! Personally I think everyone should just all learn the same stupid language and save everyone a lot of time... but..." She trails off to glower at the paper again.
Crono shakes his head.
"I never see you anymore! Can't you escape for a few hours?"
Marle shoves another huge stack of paper toward him.
"Here, memorize this and then telepathically send it to my brain and then maybe I can sneak out."
She smirks at him.
He glances at the title. "Economics."
Further down: "How to keep the economy balanced."
And even FURTHER down: "Funding: how to set priorities and keep the populace happy too."
Crono blinks and shakes his head.
"Uhmmmmm... I don't think so."
Crono clears his throat.
"You know, I, ahh, wanted to talk to you about something."
Marle nods absently, doodling on her Vilatese book.
"I was, um, thinking of going to Choras... to look for a job." Crono finishes awkwardly.
Marle turns to look at him with a shocked expression.
"Why?? There's work in Truce! I can get you a job at the castle even! I could use a personal guard even! And those are paid REALLY well! You don't have to leave..."
she adds "me." as a quiet period.
Crono shifts his feet.
"Well, it's more than that. I'd just like a change. Mom's health is declining and the dryer weather will do her good... and I just... I just... I'd just like to escape the things I can't have for awhile." he finishes heavily.
Marle blinks back a tear.
"Back to this again. You KNOW if I could change that STUPID law I would Crono!"
She gets up and stands beside him.
"I don't think any royal bloodline some prince would bring would be more pure than yours anyway. But the law is the law is the law and this one CAN'T be changed or excepted. But you know I would..."
Crono interrupts her quietly.
"Yeah I know. But that still leaves me with nothing but a 'what might have been.' And who knows, maybe I'll be back in a week. Maybe I won't even leave! I haven't told mom yet. I wanted to tell you first. I think I just need a change for a bit. Nothing more."
Marle looks at him sadly.
"Well... I have so much work to do I probably won't even know you're gone!"
She makes an attempt at a smile, but fails.
Crono smiles at her.
"Well, I'll let you know." He says. "You'd better get back to your... um... whatever..."
Marle scowls at her desk again.
"AUGGHH being Royal is a Royal PAIN!"
She plunks back into her chair and gives him one of her famous pouts.
Crono chuckles as he heads for the door.
"I'll talk to you later."
"Yeah..." she says, slipping back into a sad, worried frown.
*a few weeks later*
Marle and Lucca stand with Crono and his mom on the dock. Lucca is sobbing freely into her tissue and repeating over and over how much she is going to miss Crono. Crono keeps fighting off her hugs and laughing about how he is only going to be gone for awhile and that there's no need to get hysterical about it. Crono's mom looks a bit weepy and nostalgic too though. Marle remains silent, staring out over the sea and glancing at Crono.
"Now who is going to be brave enough to try my inventions??" Lucca wails.
She glances at Marle.
"WOAH! Don't even THINK about it!" Marle says.
They all laugh.
Crono says, "See, I'm starting to miss you already!"
Lucca hugs him again.
Marle's smile fades.
"It's not that far... I guess. At least it's still in Guardia." she says. "Hah! If I want to I can issue a royal decree for you to get your butt back here! So there!"
Marle sticks her tongue out at Crono.
Crono's mom breaks in.
"Looks like the boat is ready. Better finish up."
She hugs Lucca and Marle and boards the ferry.
Lucca blows her nose.
"Here, I'll take these last two bags on for you."
She grabs them and goes aboard, leaving Crono and Marle alone.
"Here. Take this." Marle says.
She holds out her pendant.
"What? I can't take that!"
"It's a symbol of us. It was at the heart of everything we've been through together. All those adventures. You held it for me then. Hold it for me now. And don't forget me."
"I could never forget you."
"Yeah, well, I'm big on insurance."
She smiles at him and puts the pendant around his neck.
"I'll try not to lose it then." he says, grinning.
"Just make sure you return it to me. In person."
Marle turns and kicks a stone off the end of the dock.
"Well NOW what am I going to do to escape the endless parade of princes trying to impress me with their wealth?"
Crono just gives her a big hug, which she returns.
Then he kisses her.
"You'll think of something. You always do." he says.
He turns and picks up the last bag and she shuts her eyes quickly to stay the tears.
"Yeah, but I won't have you to laugh at them with."
She tries to smile but it turns into a sigh.
"Ah, you'll get one that's good. Eventually. I mean, they can't ALL be bad right?" he says.
Marle just smirks.
"Don't answer that." he says.
Lucca reappears from the cabin.
"Oh don't worry, I'll pick out a good King for ya!"
She claps Marle on the back. Marle hides her face in her hands.
"You're leaving me with THIS? How could you?!" she exclaims.
"She'll take good care of you. Maybe she'll invent the perfect prince for you and save the selection process!"
"That would make for some very interesting heirs I would imagine. Assuming it didn't blow up my castle." Marle replies.
"My inventions don't blow up!" Lucca exclaims.
"Tell that to dad after he finished rebuilding half of Leene Square!"
"It was only a small section!" Lucca retorts.
Crono is laughing.
"Ok ok! I have to go or mom will be halfway to Choras without me!"
He steps down into the boat, which is whistling it's departure.
"I'll miss you both! But you can't get rid of me this easily!"
He grins at them.
Lucca waves back and starts sobbing into her tissue again as the boat starts moving. Marle waves weakly and stares after him wistfully.
She stayed there until the boat was out of sight.
Crono lost touch with Truce. He received letters from Lucca, usually with notes from Marle attached, and he wrote back, but with less and less frequency. Crono didn't forget about Truce though. In fact it was constantly on his mind. He settled into Choras and enjoyed it there, but it was never really "home" like the place he had lived all his life. And he missed Lucca's inventions blowing up every other week. And he missed Marle. But he never seemed to work up the nerve to say "I quit. Lets go back". He was scared of how much it may have changed without him. He was afraid that everyone had forgotten him. He didn't want to find out.
Truce went on without him.
Guess what! Marle FINALLY chose a Prince! Yeah I can't believe it either. His name is Ben. He's actually really nice. I think she chose him because he wasn't stuck up and didn't try to win her over with a million gold like the others. He gave her this BEAUTIFUL horse instead, named Morning Star. Marle prefers horses over gold any day. She was totally wild (the horse. Well... Marle was too...) And wouldn't let anyone near her but now Marle can ride her but no one else can get near her. Except me! (And Ben...) Marle got her to trust me enough to ride her IF Marle is there. Probably would be suicide without her around though. Also Ben hates the stupid "keep the royal bloodline pure - marry a prince" law as much as she does. That was a big plus. You should hear her complain about the wedding though! Doesn't want to wear the dress, doesn't want anyone there, doesn't want a big fuss... she just wants to sign a piece of paper and go. Can't say I really blame her though..."
How you doing? Was hoping to see you at QUEEN Nadia's coronation but sorry you couldn't make it. Her dad is happily retired in Porre now! So far the people love her. I think it's because she's so... present! She actually asks the people "Hey we have this much funding to spread around. What should we do with it?" and listens to their viewpoint and tries to explain everything clearly. She's already improved a bunch of stuff. Much to her disappointment she can't rewrite that stupid bloodline law. Oh well..."
You'll be happy to know that your cats are doing well and multiplying rapidly (still). Marle has basically taken over caring for them. There's never anything for me to do there except sweep up spiders (ick). Oh speaking of Marle, she's got some dissension among the peasants now. First she found this orphaned wolf pup who's parents had been shot and took care of it. Now she's started a conservation program to save the wolves from the farmers who have been shooting them to save their livestock and boy are the farmers ever mad about it. But so far she's been able to prove them wrong on every point and every problem they've brought up she's either proven it WASN'T a wolf causing it or how to fix it easily. Looks good for the wolves so far! I'm working on this tracking system so she can monitor them without having to be there in person. Now I'm thinking up a hundred OTHER uses for this system though! Must stay focused!!!..."
"Hi from the castle!
I've got a mountain of paper threatening to fall on me and a bunch of clerks banging on the door with more so you darn well better appreciate this! Boy I thought being stuck in the castle as a Princess was bad. Although I'm not NEARLY as bored now that's for sure. I WANT OUT OF THIS DAMN CASTLE! My hand is going to be stuck in this writing position permanently. I wanted to write and say THANK YOU for leaving your cats behind. "Where are you going Nadia? There's work to do!" "I have to go feed Crono's cats!" "Oh. Well don't take too long." Then I'm free! FREE! For about an hour... but still it's FREEDOM! Lucca has been helping too though. She blew up Leene square again so I got to go out and survey the damage. I'm almost wishing she would do it again! She said she would build a handwriting machine to do all this but so far no luck. If only they would let me teach clerks to forge my signature! I'm the "senior monarch" since I'm the "real" Guardia here so I can't even dump it on Ben. How annoying.
Oh dear I think they've got a battering ram out and are going to break in now... I have to pretend I've been working and didn't notice them. I'd ask you to write me back but in all likelihood I wouldn't find the letter for about 2 years. You haven't written me have you? I'll sift through my "unsorted" pile (currently taking up half of the room) and double check!
Love, Marle. (AKA Nadia, the very tired Queen with writers cramp)"
I sent this to Lucca's House addressed to you just so you wouldn't lose it in your office. Oh by the way, reading one of Lucca's latest letters, looks like you'll have another excuse to get outside. She's trying to build a new kind of rocket and some of the chemicals she mentioned didn't sound like they'll mix very well. She didn't tell me WHERE she's building it though. Good luck.
Nothing too exciting here. I got promoted again but that basically means I get three times the work for less than half again the amount of gold. But mom is happy. The doctor here has been working on all sorts of 'cures' for her. He's kind of like a medical version of Lucca.
I haven't had a chance to bug you about your new husband. So horses are the key to your heart eh? I'll remember that. I thought it was chocolate.
You won't believe this! I can't believe this! It's unbelievable! I think I discovered a new fuel! I... um... mislabeled my test tubes... and there was a small explosion... and a small fire... BUT!!! The residue from the fire can be melted into a liquid and it runs my test engine!!! And it's super efficient! I don't know what to name it though! Come on give me an idea!
PS: Horses AND chocolate. Lots of it. M. (PPS: name it "Luccaidium explodium!" but keep it OUT of my castle. I want fresh air and sunshine but I want to go OUTSIDE to get them!)
PPPS: har har har Marle. (Lucca the excited new owner of a STILL unnamed fuel)
Telegram to Lucca Itashi from Crono Trieste:
Luccaidium Explodium sounds like a great name for it STOP Sorry this isn't a letter but I didn't have time to write one out STOP Crono STOP
Been a LONG time since I heard from you so I thought I would send a letter. I haven't seen Marle much lately. She's got SO much stuff to do. The stacks of paper on her desk dwarf the ones that used to be there when she was studying. In fact I've seen her write with her right hand and eat with her left! She's become ambidextrous to keep up! She's also been acting kind of weird. Well no I shouldn't say that... but she disappears for weeks at a time. Not long after she took the throne no one here saw her for almost a year! I just figured she was busy getting things in control and figuring it all out since the new king (Ben) didn't seem concerned at all. But then she's probably just getting away from it all too. All this stress, she needs a break. I also heard a rumor that she got a death threat! But that's probably just a stupid rumor. The people here all love her and the fuss about the wolves has died out. And she would have told me about something like THAT right? Maybe I should invent some kind of shield for the entire castle! You know if I reversed the wiring in that old rocket I made years ago and added the field emulator I "borrowed" from the Trann dome in the future......"
I don't know if you've been watching the Newspapers but boy have we got trouble here. Some guy called Revick says he's going to take the Guardia kingdom. So far he hasn't even gotten across the Zenan bridge but I think he won't get very far. The Army here is strong and the bridge is easy to defend from our side. Marle is worried about her dad in Porre though. She can't get a messenger through to the Mayor and Revick's Army would have gone right through there most likely. I hope he's ok too."
*10 years after Crono left*
A young man gets off the ferry and looks around his once familiar surroundings in the dusk of insetting night. He can see the main village to the north, now considerably larger than what he remembers. Off to the west, he can see the glow of hundreds of campfires. Signs of the troubles which had brought him back here. The castle to the North West sits regally on its rise, surrounded by its wall of forest. Staring at its stone walls in the distance, he feels the weight of the pendant around his neck.
His first stop is at his old house, which had been carefully taken care of by his old friends along with all his cats which couldn't make the journey with him. He settles his mother in comfortably and stocks the shelves with the food he brought with him, and introduces himself to the new cats while reacquainting himself with the remaining old ones.
Things didn't seem TOO different here, so far.
The next morning Crono gets up out of his old bed with a feeling of Deja Vu. He half expects Marle and Lucca to come crashing in and drag him off to the market. They don't though.
After eating breakfast he heads up to the market on his own to see what and who he can find.
Leene square is a lot more crowded than he ever remembered it being. More merchants have set up stalls than he thought he had ever seen in Truce at one time before! He starts scanning the crowd for a familiar face.
Hark! A pile of metal machinery parts! Could it be?
Crono works his way through the crowd to get closer.
There is someone working with the machinery but they're buried up to the waist inside it concealing their identity. Banging noises are emanating from the interior.
Crono settles at a distance to wait.
Finally the mechanic crawls out of the machine. She stands up and removes her glasses and wipes the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. Purple hair falls past her shoulder.
Crono looks again to make sure. Yup it's Lucca! But she certainly has changed.
He nonchalantly walks up behind her as she fiddles with a remote while grumbling something about needing a more reliable power source.
He taps her on the shoulder.
"Um... excuse me?"
Lucca turns around.
When he grinned at her she nearly bowled him over with a hug.
"What are you doing here? When did you get here? Have you seen Marle yet? Or tried to see her anyway she's SO busy! Did your mom come back too? Are you STAYING????"
Crono gave up trying to follow the onslaught of questions and waited until she paused to catch her breath.
"Well I heard about the trouble with this Revick guy or whoever... and if anything happened to Marle while I wasn't here I could never forgive myself... so here I am! To stay I guess... since I quit my job. Was getting monotonous anyway."
Lucca gave a whoop of joy that made several shoppers turn and stare.
"And no I haven't been to the castle yet. I came here first since it was closer and you were almost guaranteed to be here trying to blow the place up again..."
"But I should probably head over there now and let her know I'm here before she finds out and accuses me of sneaking in. She's going to practically attack me just saying hi... don't need her MAD at me too!"
"I think Ben is in the north part of the square right now. Marle set up an Amphitheater of sorts so she could talk to the people. They use it as a sort of "remote headquarters" for some stuff. Ben is using it to plan out defenses and all that. But I don't think Marle is there right now."
"What's with the hair?" he asks.
"What? Oh yeah. It's been like this for years now." she says, grinning. "That's all Marle's fault too. I made a comment about her hair and she dared me to grow mine out. So I did... and I liked it! It kinda gets in the way, which is why I used to keep it short in the first place. Don't need it getting all tangled up in the machinery you know... But I think it looks pretty good don't you?"
Crono eyes her hair critically.
"Ahem. DON'T YOU???"
"Yeah it looks fine. It's just so weird. You haven't had long hair since you were like... 6."
At that moment, a large boom could be heard from the west. A plume of smoke was visible over the trees in the distance.
"Uh oh. That didn't sound too good. Sounded like it came from Zenan Bridge too." Lucca says.
"What could have made that big of an explosion? Besides you that is."
Lucca huffs at him.
"I DON'T make things explode... that often! But I don't know. I just hope OUR side did it. Maybe they decided to destroy the bridge to keep Revick on the other side?"
Crono shrugs, and they discuss possible causes for awhile.
"Well if we head over to the castle we should be able to find out soon." Crono says.
Lucca nods to him.
But as they prepare to go to the castle, a white horse charges past. Crono watches in amazement as it effortlessly jumps up the stairs to the north section of the square. When his eyes fall on the Royal crest branded on the horse's right shoulder, he notices the rider.
Marle was riding the horse like she had been born there. Her hair wasn't tied back like he was used to seeing, but was streaming back in the wind, loose, sunlight shimmering off the gold of it. But her features were set in grim determination. Crono watched as she rode up to the entrance to a large building that could only be the amphitheater and leapt off the horse's back. She took the stairs up to the doorway all in one step and practically threw herself through the door.
"Well... ok never mind then." said Luccas voice behind him. "This STILL doesn't look good. In fact it looks worse now." she continued.
Lucca walked past him toward the stairs to the north square.
"Well come on then." she called to him.
He ran to catch up.
Lucca approached the white horse cautiously. The horse snorted at them both and pranced sideways to move away from them.
"Easy Star, woah girl, it's ok you know me! He's ok too... we just want to go past ok girl?"
"She's really bad with strangers." she explained to Crono.
Finally the horse moved far enough away for them to reach the stairs, but then a man came rushing out and nearly collided with Lucca. He quickly, but gently, pushed her out of the way and started running for the stairs leading out of the square.
"Hey! What happened!" Lucca yelled after him.
"They broke our line! Can't talk now! Get everyone to shelter just in case!" he yelled back.
"Oh man... That's the captain of the royal guard." Lucca explained. "They got through. This could be bad."
But as she went to mount the stairs again, another man came out. This one didn't come flying down the stairs though, in fact he was walking out backwards and appeared to be arguing with someone inside. His purple cape obscured everything beyond the doorway from view.
"No no NO I say NO!" he argued.
"Will you just listen to me!" came a familiar voice from inside. "It's ME he wants. It's ME he's after. If I go NOW, like I wanted to BEFORE now I might remind you, He can't catch me in time. Retreat is always preferable to being slaughtered!!! I can't do a damn thing if I'm dead now can I???"
"It's too dangerous Nadia! So he broke the line... he can't take the castle too. His troops are weakening."
"Benjamin you get OUT of my way RIGHT NOW!"
Despite the circumstances, Crono had to smile. It had been awhile since he had heard that determined "don't you dare argue with me" voice.
"Nadia, I'm telling you..."
"No I'm telling YOU..."
At that point, Ben had backed up a little too far. He tripped down the first stair, leaving Marle standing in the doorway in mid sentence with her mouth open and her finger in the air pointing at him. She recovers quickly, stops pointing, closes her mouth and raises an eyebrow.
"Oof" said Ben, as he tries to regain all the ground he lost... and his feet.
"They could ambush you! You can't go alone."
"Well gee Ben that wouldn't have been a problem if I had left when I WANTED TO!"
Marle fixes her piercing green eyes on him again.
Ben glares back.
Lucca and Crono look from one to the other, unsure what to do.
Lucca clears her throat.
Suddenly Marle gives a shrill whistle. The white horse, Star, comes straight up to the steps and Marle jumps onto her back from the landing.
Ben lunges for the horse and manages to grab the halter before she takes off.
"Don't make me drag you!"
"You wouldn't dare!"
As Marle began to urge Star to move, Lucca steps in front of her.
"Woah! Uh.. Wait Marle! What...?"
Marle glares at Lucca.
"Lucca get out of the way! I have to go!"
Ben, looking mildly triumphant, stands up and dusts himself off.
"Will you talk some sense into her Lucca??"
Lucca resists the urge to groan.
"Well, it would help immensely if I KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON!"
Marle inhales and exhales deeply with her eyes closed.
"Revick broke our first defense line at the Zenan bridge. He intends to take the throne by eliminating the Guardia claim to it... by eliminating Guardia heirs. Namely... me! I've got to LEAVE... and NOW. Our troops can win or our troops can lose. If I'm not HERE if they LOSE then I can rebuild a force and reclaim my throne. If they WIN. Great! I come back and we repair all the damage. It's simple! But HE thinks it's too dangerous!!!!"
Ben continues to glare at her.
"If you would accept some GUARDS Nadia!"
"More people more chance of being caught! Besides you said all the guards need to go toward repelling him!"
"But we don't know where he IS! We've caught his spies on THIS side of the bridge. He could ambush you anywhere!"
Marle rolls her eyes.
"How many spies could he sneak past us?? There can't be more than I can handle!" She pats her crossbow. "Or outrun." She pats Star. "Another reason for me to leave alone. Star is the fastest horse in this kingdom. More people would slow me down."
Marle ponders for a minute.
"Lucca! Did you ever get that tracking system you were working on... working? Could you scan the area and see if there's anyone lurking around in the forest or something?"
Lucca blinks at suddenly being included back into the argument.
She starts fiddling with her remote, which she has been hanging onto the whole time.
"Wait... just give me a minute..."
Marle taps her fingers impatiently. Star, sensing her mood, tosses her head and prances a bit.
"Hmmm... well maybe with a few adjustments..."
"No time. I'm leaving NOW!"
Star jumps ahead, out of Ben's reach.
Marle pulls her up and looks back.
"Set up more defense lines and make sure the villagers are safe! Get as much help as you can to protect them! I would suggest getting everyone but defenders out of the castle too. Lucca! See if you can find any of your old gun prototypes for the lines. Those would help a lot! Crono!"
Crono gives a start at being noticed.
"Use whatever knowledge you have rattling around in your head. Everything helps! But... be careful. Good to see you again."
She smiles at him briefly, but urges Star into a gallop and is gone swiftly, leaping down the stairs more impressively than she came up.
Ben splutters to himself for a moment before turning to Lucca and Crono.
"Well. I guess that's that. I hope she's ok..."
They stand there awkwardly for a minute.
"Um. Hi. I'm Crono." Crono says, extending his hand to Ben.
"Yeah I've heard a lot about you." Ben says, his eyes twinkling and he shakes Crono's hand. "I'm Benjamin, but call me Ben."
"Well... Lets get planning. Either of you know where to find some extra troops? Any good barricade ideas? Here let's go inside."
Ben opens the amphitheater door and ushers them both inside.
Once inside, Crono took a better look at Ben.
Short dark brown hair and tall with a cropped beard, he was actually pretty handsome, as far as Crono could tell. He was still wearing the long purple cape. Crono could see a warm light in his eyes despite the troubles they were facing. He smiled inwardly. He knew Marle would find a good one.
Crono's mind drifted off toward Marle again. She had been so beautiful out there. But then when you haven't seen something you love for 10 years it's going to look pretty darn good. He liked her hair down like that. She was so regal too. Apparently being Queen had changed her somewhat. But then these were extreme circumstances and she was getting close to desperate. She tended to pull rank at times like that... even when she knew Crono would ignore it anyway.
He hoped she would be ok. He had wanted to volunteer to go with her, but after all the arguments as to why she had to go alone, and the fact that he couldn't have gotten a word in edgewise on that argument... He didn't think that horse would have let him get near it anyway, even with Marle there. Maybe she was right. He would have just slowed her down and made it easier for someone to find her.
He let his mind drift back to her gorgeous green eyes...
"Hey! Yoohoo, Crono? Lucca to Crono! Come in Crono!"
Crono jumped in surprise.
"Look if you're gonna daydream about Marle, do it when we DON'T have a war looming over us ok?"
"Why is it she can always seem to read my mind at the most embarrassing times? Even after 10 years!" Crono thought, as he felt himself blush slightly.
He focused on the conversation again.
Ben turned back to the big table in front of them. On closer inspection, Crono saw that the table was in fact a map of Truce to the Zenan bridge. There were bunches of mini statues scattered around the bridge on both sides. Blue pieces were on this side and red pieces were on the far side.
"Boy, Deja Vu." Crono says. "Lets just hope they don't have a Zombor like Ozzie did. We can't use our magic anymore."
"Boy that would come in handy. Send a mega flare over there and blow them out of the water! I'm still formulating theories as to why we did lose our magic though..."
Crono cut her off before she could launch into a long-winded lecture.
Ben simply pointed to the red statues.
"That's all the troops we have SEEN so far. Nothing non-human yet, but we don't even know where they're coming from. For all we know they could all be shape shifters taking human form. Mostly swordsmen and archers but he's also got a few men which we can't figure out. They just stand there. Maybe they're simply commanders or something to help control the ranks.
"Over here is our former first line." he pointed to a line of blue blocks. "It WAS a palisade wall but Revick managed to break through it somehow. I don't have specifics yet, I only know that he got through."
He pointed to another line further back.
"This is our second line. BUT it's LESS defended than the first. Anyone surviving from the first should be moving back to the second, but that's very risky. If Revick goes straight up to the second wall, letting any of our own troops through would be too dangerous. And if Revick's troops took the uniforms of any of our fallen soldiers they could be let through by mistake."
"And you have all the soldiers available defending that?" he asked.
"There's a guard at the castle too but the bulk of them should be there, as well as anyone from the village proper who answered our plea for volunteers. The problem is, no matter how many of his men we take out, they are always replaced from somewhere on the other side! That's why we need to find out WHERE they're coming from."
Lucca has been in deep thought ever since Ben started describing the situation. Suddenly she snaps her fingers and her face lights up.
"I know! Maybe I know... I need to get to the cliffs here." she points to the shoreline beyond her house. "I have this gadget that should work perfectly for this and maybe I can see if he's got a camp over there or something! I just hope that stupid mountain doesn't get in the way. Oh!! And if THAT doesn't work... I can try modifying my tracking system and sending it up and over!!!! That would be perfect!!! Our own spy system! Mwahahaha! Oh wait... And MAYBE...!"
"Woah Lucca! Slow down the ideas a second." Crono says.
Ben is nodding though.
"Excellent. If you can see his camp that would help tremendously. And if you can get that spy thing working, even if you CAN'T find a camp we can use it to monitor the battle. Yes... This is looking better. We just need more defenses. Crono, get to the second line as fast as you can and tell them to construct some more palisade walls. As many as they possibly can. The more walls he has to go through the slower he comes. And Lucca, get working on that tracker. I'll go look for some more troops. Good luck to us all... and Nadia."
Crono and Lucca nod to each other, and Ben, and then head out the door.
She moved silently through the underbrush. She knew this forest even better than the back of her hand. Her excellent white horse was picking each step carefully. It was even better than she hoped. Completely silent. Well, not completely, but a heck of a lot more silent than she expected. Too bad silent makes you move so SLOW.
Her mind began to wander. "Bah. I don't see him for 10 lousy years and now I have to go rushing off without even saying a proper 'hi'. I'm gonna string you up by something REALLY painful Revick. Trying to take my throne. Grrr! Frankly I wouldn't mind not being Queen, but I have a responsibility to the people and to my family and all such nonsense. Well no I guess I don't hate it all that much. I'm just MAD. VERY Mad. And worried... I swear Crono if you get yourself killed I'm gonna kill you!"
Star gave a nervous flick of her head, bring Marle out of her thoughts. Marle patted her neck quietly.
"She must be picking up on my mood. Have to relax. Calm down girl. Just need to get to the path then I'm home free. No one will find me after that. Even if they did and could blow up the entire castle with one shot they couldn't get me there. No way."
Star whickered nervously. Marle was instantly on alert. That's too much, something was wrong.
Then Marle listened.
Cursing, Marle booted Star into a gallop. NOTHING. Not even a bird or frog. Someone was here! "Dammit! Why didn't I stay focused! Run Star! Faster girl faster!!"
Star went faster. Faster than Marle could remember her going. But not fast enough.
A crossbow bolt hit Marle in the shoulder and knocked her clean out of the saddle. She hit the ground hard and lay there, stunned.
Star pulled up immediately and turned to look at her. But as she started to trot back, Marle recovered enough to yell "Run Star! Get out!"
Star stopped. Then listening to her Mistress's tone, and sensing the strangers in the woods around her, she whirled and ran.
Marle's world went black.
Lucca made some more adjustments to the tube in her hands. Sticking her tongue out, she delicately turned the focus knob.
"There! That should do it." She said to no one in particular.
She put the tube up to her eye and peered out across the water.
"Stupid mountain..." she grumbled.
"Aha! There's his troops and the bridge..." she swept the tube along the far coast. "Hrmmm. What's that."
She fiddled with the knob a bit more until, with a slight buzzing sound, it extended further and made the image larger.
"More troops. Great. Is that a camp or just a big party? BAH! I can't see!"
She took the tube from her eye and stared across the water. Frustrated.
Looking down at the pile of metal sitting beside her, her mind started working furiously. She knelt beside it and pulled the tool kit from her belt.
Crono kept running. He had run out of breath awhile back but he had to get there quick. The more men they kept out the safer Marle would be. Why oh why didn't he ride a horse or something?
Crono slowed down and stopped, panting. The palisade lines were in sight up ahead and the bridge further down the peninsula pointing toward the south continent.
Crono just barely kept from falling to his knees.
The palisade was nothing but rubble.
Soldiers lay dead or dying all over the place. Crono barely registered satisfaction from the fact that as many if not more of them were wearing a strange crest that had to be Revick's. They didn't just walk through.
Crono looked around quickly, but no one was standing upright within sight. However he could see two separate groups of soldiers on the other side, heading for the bridge. Both were unfathomably large, and it looked like they weren't alone.
He backed away from the carnage slowly, then one thought hit his mind and stayed there. Marle.
As he turned to start running back, another loud boom came from the direction of the castle.
Lucca muttered to herself while she screwed the tube onto the bottom of the tracking machine.
Then she carefully removed a chip from her helmet, and a chip from a pouch on her tool belt.
Using a small pointed tool, she made adjustments to both of them, and then replaced the chip in her helmet, and carefully attached the other to the tube.
A large boom from the direction of the castle made her jump suddenly, almost dropping the sensitive equipment.
She worriedly watched a plume of smoke rise from the far side of Guardia forest, then doggedly went back to her machine.
She carefully closed up the service doors of the machine and checked that the tube was secure on the bottom of it.
Flicking some switches on both her helmet and the machine, she moved her sight scope arm into position in front of her right eye, and then smiled without humor as the image the tube was "seeing" snapped into place before her.
Then she gingerly removed a tube from her belt and poured it's contents into the fuel hole of the machine.
Inhaling deeply, she touched the button marked "start".
The machine roared to life and lifted off the ground.
Swallowing a whoop of joy, Lucca whips out her remote and tests all the controls. They work perfectly!
Then she directs the machine to look over at where the defenses for Zenan are.
She stares silently through her scope at an army three times the size of Truce marching toward the ruined defenses. And the line stretches back until it is blocked from view.
She grimly turns the machine toward the castle, but notices the form of Crono running back this direction as she does.
"At least he's not lying there too" She thinks to herself with much relief.
The relief fades when the castle swings into view.
There is a gaping hole where the front doors of the castle used to be and troops are marching through it. Lucca can see a few guards and servants escaping through the forest.
She numbly pulls the sight scope away from her eye.
*about two weeks later*
"Augggh Crono STOP PACING already! You're driving me nuts." Lucca exclams.
"When's that gathering?" he asks.
"You still have about 40 minutes to wait. Settle down already."
"I wonder what's going on. We haven't heard anything. I hope Marle got out ok. And Ben. Has there been any reports on where he is?"
"Not since the last time you asked 10 minutes ago." Lucca says irritatedly.
"No news on Marle is a good thing. Although hearing the castle being torn apart looking for her would be even better. She's got to be ok. Why didn't I go with her!"
"Because she would have clobbered you for trying."
Crono stopped pacing for a minute and looked around the crowded square again. The crowd buzzed with uncertainty. A message runner had knocked on everyone's doors and asked them to gather in the square for an announcement. Crono's mom had opted to stay home because she didn't feel up to standing around in a large crowd.
Ever since the invasion, things had been relatively quiet. Too quiet as far as Crono was concerned. The army was too large to repel but if it had been possible, Ben or Marle would certainly have come and told everyone. Instead they got the odd messenger walking around with a clipboard noting something. Things were definitely happening at the castle, but no one could even enter the forest. It was under heavy guard.
Lucca was fiddling with her remote and peering through her sight scope.
"Hey! I think they're coming." she says suddenly.
Sure enough, a few minutes later a small entourage pushes it's way through the crowd.
Several burly guards surround a tall, thin man with a smirk on his face. He has a sparse beard surrounding his mouth and stringy black hair.
He was wearing the crown and cloak of Guardia.
The group enters the amphitheater and the man and some guards walk out onto the stage.
"Greetings." says the man. "I am your new King. Revick. You will address me as "your majesty" or "your highness" or "Revick the invincible" or some other title I decide on. As you may well have noticed, I crushed Guardia under my little finger. That makes it mine. That makes YOU mine."
He snaps his fingers and two more guards come out onto the stage.
They drag Marle between them.
An audible gasp rises from the audience. Crono's hands clench into fists.
Marle doesn't look so good. She's been stripped naked and whip lashes cover her body. Dried blood is crusted everywhere around deep lacerations. There is a nasty looking hole in her right shoulder where she was shot with a crossbow, and dried blood covers her face.
She had been blinded with hot irons.
Revick smirks at her.
"See your queen? That's the price for defying me. In fact, she was trying to run away when I caught her. How brave. I don't suspect she'll live very long. Oh well. Now you know my power."
Marle spits out some blood.
"A Kingdom's power comes from it's people you bastard." she says. "And that means you're as weak as a newborn kitten."
She snarls silently.
Revick scowls, then steps up to her and backhands her across the face, knocking her right off the stage. The crowd catches her and she slumps to the ground unconscious.
Crono quickly shoves his way through the crowd to her, followed closely by Lucca.
Revick laughs a nasty little laugh as he watches her.
"Well then I guess your kingdom is stronger than mine. But mine can crush yours."
He turns back to the crowd.
"Enjoy your queen! I'm giving her to you. But no laws apply to her. You can shoot her in the back if you want and it's perfectly legal as far as I'm concerned. She no longer exists. No record of her will remain. Not that she'll live long enough for it to matter... And the same goes for the king as soon as I find him. If I catch any of you hiding him the penalty will be severe!"
Revick swirls the royal cape grandly.
"That will be all. Good day, my subjects."
Revick gathers up his retinue and exits the square.
Crono gently picks up the still out-cold Marle, while Lucca fends off the offers of help.
They quickly leave the square and take her back to Crono's house.
Crono's mom looks up from her embroidery as the door opens, then gasps loudly.
Crono and Lucca entered. Crono is holding Marle in his arms, but she is a mess.
Crono's mom sprang out of her chair and prepared the spare bed, which Crono gently placed Marle on.
There was a knock at the door. Everyone in the room looked uncertainly at everyone else.
"I'll get it." Said Crono's mom, and she walked out to the front door.
She opened the door a crack and peered out. The village doctor was standing there.
"I'm assuming he brought her here?" the doctor said.
Crono's mom nodded, and decided to let him in to help. She directs him toward the spare bedroom.
Crono looks up as the doctor grimly enters the room.
The doctor immediately puts down his bag and starts examining Marle.
"I saw you grab her in the square." he explains. "I knew you'd probably need some help getting her back on her feet."
Crono just nods gratefully.
Lucca bites on her knuckle.
Crono's mom watches with concern from the doorway.
"Go get a sponge or cloth and some warm water please Mrs. Trieste." the doctor asks.
She nods hurriedly and rushes into the kitchen.
The doctor gently probes a laceration, bringing a grunt of pain from Marle.
"I think this rib is broken. A couple fingers too. And I think her leg is fractured... But it's mostly bruises and cuts. They sure ran her through the wringer."
He gingerly inspects her eyes.
"Nothing I can do there. Looks like they used hot irons. She's going to be blind. But it looks worse than it is. Once they heal up she probably won't even have to wear a covering. They'll look mostly white from scar tissue though."
Lucca rubs at her eyes.
Crono blinks back the tears as he thinks about how beautiful Marle's green eyes were.
"Just a lot of clean up to do I think." finishes the doctor. He smiles gratefully at Crono's mom who is returning with a big bowl of steaming water and some sponges.
"Well." says Lucca. "What do you think of our new king so far?"
"I hate him. But I'm a tad biased I suppose." growls Crono.
Lucca nods. "Yup me too."
Awhile later, just as the doctor was finishing cleaning all the blood off of her, Marle began to wake up.
"Marle? You awake?"
"Crono?" she asks weakly.
"Ok wait... where am I."
"Oh thank god."
"How do you feel now?" asks the doctor.
"Here I have some pain medicine. It will make you drowsy though."
"Do I look like I care?"
"Not in the least."
"I'm also starving."
"Well that's a good sign." says the doctor. "So much for all his predictions about you not living."
"Who?" she asks.
The doctor pauses. "Revick."
"Oooooh that...." She clenches her fist.
"Ow! Ok that finger is broken..."
"Wait... let me splint everything before you try moving!" say the doctor, quickly rummaging through his bag.
"Hey guess what!" exclaims Lucca.
"Yeah! I modified that tracker system into a spy cam! I can see right into the castle windows from here if I want to."
"Great. See if you can find Ben. What happened?"
Everyone is silent for a minute.
"We don't know what happened to Ben. He just disappeared. But we DO know that Revick doesn't have him. He was making threats to get people to give him up." answers Lucca.
"Well that's good. He can't be too bad off then."
"Marle, what happened? How did he get you?" Crono asks quietly
"He shot me off my damn horse. Ben was right. He ambushed me in the forest. Damn him but Ben was right." Marle grumbles. "My horse... Have you seen Star anywhere? I told her to run after they shot me and she took off. I don't want that jerk getting her!"
"Damn!" says Marle, then she grunts and clutches at her rib.
"Will you just hold still!" says the doctor. "Ok wait, just... everyone get out! Let me stabilize everything before you get her all excited again. Take this Your Highness."
"No don't call me that. I'm not the queen anymore. Just call me Marle."
"Well whoever you are, take this and be quiet."
Marle snickers quietly as she takes the medication.
"Come on! Everyone out!"
The doctor starts shooing everyone out of the room. Crono doesn't move.
Crono and the doctor face off for a minute.
"Oh just let him stay. He's worse than a mother hen when it comes to me. You couldn't move him with a 10 horse tractor right now." Marle says. "Just hurry up and glue me together so I can eat already."
Crono settles back into his place beside the bed. After the doctor splints the broken finger, Crono takes her hand.
"I should have gone with you." he says.
"Yeah and then you'd be dead right now and where would I be."
"Woah. Stuff works fast. Feels like the room is starting to spin."
"Ok I think that's the last of it except your rib. This is going to be tricky. Crono, prop her up so I can wrap this around her."
A few minutes later, The rib was strapped into place.
"Ok that's that. I'll come check on you tomorrow and change some of the bandages and cleanse that shoulder again. Those splints can probably be removed in a few weeks but I'll leave the stabilizers on for maybe a few months to let them strengthen."
"Woah, wait." Marle says sleepily. "Lemme eat before this drug knocks me out. Um, Crono you got a housecoat or something I can use?"
Crono suddenly realizes that Marle is naked. Up until now he was too concerned to notice.
"Umm... uhh... Yeah. I'll be right back..."
He rushes out of the room and up the stairs to his bedroom.
As he comes back down with the robe, Lucca comments: "Crono! Your face is as red as your hair!"
They could hear Marle's laughter from the bedroom. Punctuated by "Owwwww! Hey laughing hurts over here!"
Crono stood at the sink, lost in thought. He was doing the dishes for his mom, but his mind was only half on the job.
Nothing much had changed. Marle had healed rapidly but the pain killer medication kept her sleeping most of the time. Lots of village people had come asking about her and bringing gifts of food and other useful items, and Lucca popped in and out daily, as well as the doctor. Marle's shoulder wound had become infected which didn't help matters much, but the doctor had cleaned it out and reduced the fever it had caused, and now the hole was noticeably smaller. It appeared that her eyes weren't causing as much pain as before either.
"So far so good." he thought. "Actually her last pill should be wearing off soon."
As if on cue, Marle's voice came from the bedroom.
Crono went to the bedroom door. Marle was sitting up and rubbing at her eyes.
"I'm getting out of this bed and going to the front room. You can either help me or I'll crawl."
"Crawling it is."
She started working her way out from under the blanket.
"OK ok!" Crono said, and went to help her. "Don't come to me when you end up hurting yourself and the doctor yells at you." he grumbles.
"Do you have ANY idea how BORING this bedroom is?"
"Bah you sleep the whole time anyway."
"That's all I CAN do! At least in the front room I can listen to you rattle around in the kitchen or something. I'll just lie there like a lump on the couch, I promise!"
Several minutes later, Crono helped Marle lie on the couch.
"Whew. Thanks. I'm glad I didn't crawl, I would have collapsed by the doorway. That was exhausting."
"You're a pain in the butt you know that?"
"Yeah, so? What of it?"
Crono just chuckled and went back to the sink.
"Oh... you need another pain killer? The doctor left me a few extras."
"If I wanted to sleep I wouldn't have left the bed. It's not THAT bad... right now."
"Last one probably hasn't worn off yet. Just let me know. Don't do your stubborn act."
"What act? That's all real stubbornness!"
At that point Crono's mom came out her own bedroom.
"Oh! You're out of bed. How are you feeling?"
"Winded. Didn't seem that far from that bed to this couch last time I was here."
"I know that feeling. My poor old bones have been aching a lot lately. My fingers don't seem to want to bend to embroider anymore. And I'm really not THAT old."
She settled herself into her favorite chair and rummaged in her bag for her embroidery.
Marle's "Oof" made Crono turn around quickly. Sitting on her stomach was one of the cats.
"Well thank you very much cat. I needed that." Marle chuckles.
"Oh... here I'll get rid of her." Crono says, heading for the cat.
"No no. She's fine. Long as she doesn't decide to sit on my rib she's fine. I had to chase more than one of them away from following me home after feeding them. They used to climb all over me. Why should they think any different now?"
The cat curled up into a purring ball on her stomach as she pet it. Marle lay back with one hand petting the cat and the other over her eyes.
Crono paused, then ran some cold water over a cloth.
"Here." he says, placing the cloth over her eyes.
"Thank you." she says quietly.
Crono's mom looks up with concern, then goes back to her needlework.
"Soooo... What made Ben so special over all those other princes hmm?" Crono asks teasingly, working on getting some stuck-on food off a plate.
"Well, he came and asked ME to consider him... not my father... He did his research and found out what I liked and disliked before trying to give me any gifts... He didn't wear 20 pounds of gold jewelry to try and impress me... And he was just as annoyed by the whole thing as I was. Instant winner. In fact I think he had a girlfriend back home. He won't talk about it though."
"And how was the honeymoon?" Crono teases.
"As if I would tell you. But it's a lot different than a "real" marriage. For one you barely know each other, for two you don't even WANT to be married, and for three when you DO know each other you're more like really good friends. Imagine if you will, you HAVING to have a child... and having to have it with Lucca."
Crono stops for a minute and thinks about that.
"Ok yeah that would be REALLY weird."
"Then imagine if you will, you HAVING to have a child... and having to have it with a total stranger you just met. Talk about really weird. There's no passion! No romance! It's like... WORK!
"I mean if I HAVE to get pregnant and all the unpleasantries that go with that... I'd at least like to enjoy getting there." Marle mutters. "Stupid stupid royal birthright."
"And I swear, if you ever grow a beard I'll sneak in and shave it off while you sleep. He didn't have that when he first arrived and boy did we argue about it. I hate it! If I wanted to kiss a steel wool pad I would." she grumbles.
Once Crono and his mom stop laughing, Crono changes the subject.
"What's with that horse? Lucca said you're the only one who can even get near it? Looked pretty wild to me but it listened to everything you said." he asks.
"Morning Star. That was Ben's gift. He found out about how I practically adopted the castle stables when I was old enough to ride and decided to give me a horse.
"I fired half the grooms because I didn't like the way they were taking care of the horses and then did the work myself." she chuckles.
"She was a totally wild horse when he gave her to me. Took me almost a year just to get her to trust me enough to take an apple from me. But after that it was smooth sailing. She still prefers to be ridden bareback but for me she lives with the saddle. I swear she understands every word I say. Star could run any horse in this kingdom to the ground, but only for me. She bucks anyone else off unless I'm there. Someone tried to steal her once. She bucked him off and he broke his neck landing."
Marle chuckles again.
"Yeah well leave my horse alone! I won't say he deserved it though."
"She tried to warn me in the forest when they shot me. I thought she was just picking up my nervousness but she knew. Wish I had listened more closely."
"And wolves too??" Crono continues, trying to keep the subject light hearted.
"Ohhhh those wolves. I was escaping paperwork one day and went for a walk in the woods. Ran across a baby wolf who's mother and father had been shot. It was just sitting there, shivering and looking lost. Broke my heart. So I took it in. I immediately got heat for saving a "savage creature" so I started a high intensity research program. Found all sorts of interesting information and the wolves were getting blamed for a hundred things they didn't do. In fact the wolf population in Guardia is nearing extinction. So of course I started a conservation program. Boy, if I thought I was getting heat before..."
Crono chuckles. "So what happened to the pup?" he asks.
"I let him rest and grow until he was strong enough to hunt on his own, then I took a bunch of time off to teach him to hunt. Lots of farmers weren't impressed that I was 'neglecting my duties' to aid the wolf population, but I really didn't. I just had to sleep less. He should still be out there, hopefully with a mate and starting a pack."
Crono's mom looks up and glances out the window.
"Oh there's Lucca coming up the path. Looks like she has something."
Lucca knocked on the door then opened it without waiting for someone to answer.
"Oh hey Marle! Feeling better?"
"Possibly. I wouldn't know, I slept through most of it."
"That's probably the best thing to do anyway. Here! I'm gonna try making something for you."
"Oh lord you aren't trying to build me new eyes or something are you?"
"Hey I wish I could! Hmmmm.. You know your vision is still technically ok, your eyes are just damaged... Using optic technology like Robo's eyes..."
"NO Lucca! I'll be fine really!"
"Well anyway, I know how easy you get bored NORMALLY so I figured you'll be going out of your head shortly. And knowing what a bookworm you are I figured you'd be happy with something to read!"
Marle pulls the cloth off her ruined eyes and raises an eyebrow. Crono leans on the counter and raises his as well.
"This should be interesting." Crono's mom says.
"Wait I'm not finished yet!" says Lucca.
"So... I went to the library and got this book out. It's a 'how to' book for learning Braille! You don't already know Braille right?"
Marle looks thoughtful.
"No actually. That's one language I never thought I would have to learn..."
"AND I'm STILL not finished! I know you hate imposing on people and all that and there's no way you're gonna bug people to help you figure this out since they're already taking care of you and everything... but you can't read it on your own right? SO... I'm making this voice emulator thing so that IT can "read" the book for you until you learn the Braille! I have to finish programming it and get some headphones and everything first... Oooh wait... Maybe I could modify it so it could read ANY book! Hmmm...."
Marle starts to smile.
"Lucca... You are SUCH a genius!"
"Yeah I know!"
"Well go finish it! I'm already getting bored!"
"Yes. Please. Hurry Lucca." says Crono, but he's smiling.
"Yeah! Shouldn't take me much more than a week... I'll let you know! Bye!"
She disappears out the door.
"What would we do without her."
"Be very bored I suppose." Crono answers.
"This is warm."
Marle chucks the cloth and manages to hit Crono right in the face.
"Hey! I'll get you for that."
"Hah! I got him didn't I!"
*more time passes*
Marle grimaces as she pulls the brush through her hair.
"Boy this is hard to do with broken fingers..."
She winces as the brush catches on a snag, more from her finger being jarred than from her hair being pulled.
Crono sat watching her.
"Are you SURE you don't want me to do that?"
Crono sighs and rests his head on his elbow.
"'Cause you know I really wouldn't mind."
"It would probably be a lot less trouble than this."
"I'm doing fine thank you."
"Actually, I even WANT to. I love your hair."
"You know I could probably hit you with this brush from here."
"Not if I move."
"What if I throw it?"
"Oh just shut up. I'm almost done anyway. Ow!"
"Look, you're going to undo all the healing that finger's done. Will you just..."
"Woah you just back off mister. I can do this!"
Crono sighed again and rolled his eyes. Then settles back down to watch some more.
Marle starts untangling a knot with her unbroken fingers.
"Ow. Again. What I wouldn't give for some cure magic right now..."
"Maybe if I concentrate realllllly hard. When Spekkio taught us, didn't he say we all could do it, we just forgot how? Or something..."
"I hardly remember anymore. Ask Lucca. She's got some big theories about how what where why. She'll talk your ear off for about an hour explaining them."
"No thanks, she already has. Several times. But then I have more time to listen now.
"And besides, it's not like I have an overabundance of activities to do anyway. I actually don't mind if it takes all day to brush my hair. Gives me something to do. Ugh. I really need a shower."
"No way. A bath I might allow but I'm not letting you take a shower. You're still too weak to stand for that long."
"Yes mom. Bath, shower... whatever. I want clean. I haven't had a proper bathing for what seems forever. Ugh."
"Well considering all the antiseptic the doctor has been pouring on you..."
"Doesn't count. My hair is still all greasy."
A long-haired cat jumps up on the back of the couch where Marle is sitting and starts swatting at her hair as she struggles with it.
"Hey! Look you little brat.." Marle laughs.
"That cat sure likes you." Crono says, grinning. "She won't even let the others get near half the time."
The cat leans out to swat at Marle's hair again, but leans too far and falls right into her lap.
Marle laughs and sets the brush down to play with the cat. Crono snatches it up.
"Hah! I got the brush!"
"Good for you. I'm done anyway." she snickers.
She reaches for a clip to tie her hair back, but Crono stops her.
"No, don't. I like it down like that."
"It gets all tangled if I leave it loose."
"So? You're the one complaining about having nothing to do. Brush it more!" Crono chuckles.
"Yeah but it also gives this darn cat something to attack!"
As if she had been listening, the kitten made another lunge for Marle's hair. Marle grabbed her, laughing.
Crono fingers the brush and watches Marle giggling with the cat.
"You know..." he begins, then pauses. "You've just been through hell. And yet I haven't even seen you shed one tear."
"Not for lack of trying I assure you." she says, suddenly serious. "I mean, right now I'm fine and everything, but a lot of nights I feel like my pillow should be soaked. The irons must have fused my tear ducts or something. I've noticed my eyes have been very dry and irritated... but I blamed it on healing and damage. It's probably something that will fix itself with time though. But hey. Makes me look all brave and stolid right? But seriously, what's the point of sitting here being depressing and feeling sorry for myself. You drive me nuts caring for me as it is! I'm NOT going to give you MORE reasons to mother me! Getting all depressed about it won't help anything."
"Good. But I'm not going to stop mothering you. So there."
"Good." she says. And then smiles.
"But being blind doesn't scare you at all?" he asks.
"Ohhhhhhh yeah. Terrifies me. Just put it down to royal programming. Controlling emotions is something you learn along with all the hundreds of other things. When someone comes knocking on your door with an army, having the ruler running around screaming 'oh my god we're gonna die!' doesn't help the public panic level much."
"Half the time I think you can still see! You're so calm! I'd probably be freaking out."
There was a pause.
"I am." she whispers.
Crono stays silent.
"When I was really young... I can barely remember it. Maybe I was like... four... I don't remember what was going on or who he was talking to or even what the context was... but my dad was talking about this story. Probably wasn't even true. Like I said I can't remember it. But it was about this girl who died. They put her in the coffin and buried her... and then maybe a week later, for some reason they dug her back up. And on the inside of the coffin there were scratch marks, and the fingernails of the girl were worn down almost to the bone. She was still alive when they buried her but they didn't know and she woke up and tried to claw her way out, but died AFTER she was buried.
"I thought about that story and all I could think was 'boy it must have been scary waking up and it was all dark and silent.' I used to have a nightmare about being buried alive because of it. It went away over time though. But now... I've had it again. A few times. When I used to get it, I would just open my eyes and make sure I wasn't in some coffin and then roll over and go back to sleep. Now even when I open my eyes... everything is still black..."
Crono slides onto the couch beside her and gently puts his arm around her.
"I just... wish I could turn on a light sometimes. But I know it won't help." she says quietly.
She rubs at her eyes.
"There, you see! I should be crying right now and nothing!"
Crono chuckles and gives her a quick hug.
The cat, sensing her mood, jumps onto her shoulder and nuzzles her ear.
"Auggh! Wet nose! In my ear! Get down you little brat!"
"That cat is going to think it's name is 'brat' soon." he says.
"What IS her name?"
"Umm.. I don't think she has one. There's like 20 more cats than there used to be here. I haven't had time to name them all."
"Boy you certainly have gotten some milage out of that cat we won at the millennial fair haven't you."
"Yeah. I used to have ONE cat. Now look at them! Can't say we have a mouse problem though..."
The room falls silent again, except for the purring of the fluffy cat as Marle pets her.
"Oh! I can't believe I haven't done this yet!" exclaims Crono.
He carefully removes the pendant from around his neck.
"This is yours. You told me to return it in person."
He clasps the pendant chain around her neck.
She gently strokes the tear-shaped pendant.
"I almost forgot what this felt like. Thank you for taking care of it."
"Maybe it will chase away those nightmares." he says.
He hesitates, then kisses her cheek. She leans back into his embrace.
The door opens and Crono's mom steps through, her arms loaded with bags.
"Oh! Here mom I'll get that for you."
Crono springs up off the couch and takes the bags from his mother.
"Whew. Thank you Crono. That walk did me good. I ran into lots of old friends. Oh, Marle. I ran into Lara in the square. She says that Lucca is working day and night on that reading machine but she ran into some problems and it's going to take a little longer than she thought."
"Well as long as it doesn't explode when I turn it on. Wish she would hurry though. I'm sooo bored."
"Oh and I also got you some real clothes. That ratty old housecoat of Crono's has got to go. I guessed on the sizes but the merchant said to bring them back if they don't fit, and to give you his blessing."
Marle scratches her head, looking a little uncomfortable.
"Be sure to thank him next time you see him then..."
"I didn't buy you much. Just some shirts and pants and a jacket and some proper underwear..."
Crono stifles a snicker.
"Hey! No comments from the peanut gallery!" Marle says.
"Crono probably won't let you out of the house without a leash for awhile anyway..."
"I'm not THAT bad!" Crono says.
Now Marle stifles a snicker.
"He had some gorgeous dresses too... but I passed on them since I can't ever remember you wearing any. Shame too. They would look lovely on you. I can still go back for them...?"
"Uhhh no.. Nooo that's ok. Thank you though."
"Oh well. I also have some old stuff of mine that doesn't fit anymore that you could probably wear..."
"Mrs. Trieste, thank you really. But there's no need to go to so much trouble over me."
"Oh no! No trouble. In fact I need something to do. I feel so useless now, sitting and embroidering. And poor Crono taking care of both of us. If he has to take care of me I may as well take care of you. And please, call me Maria"
Marle looks slightly perplexed.
"Ohhh no. Don't tell me I'm going to have BOTH of you mothering me now!"
"Aww, don't you feel special?" says Crono, laughing.
*even more time passes*
"Ohhh I'm sooooooo bored." moaned Marle. "Are you SURE you don't have anything I could do?"
"Wanna do the dishes?" asks Crono, looking disgustedly at the pile in the sink.
"Wow you ARE bored. Do you even know how to do dishes?"
"Of course I do! Everyone thinks being a princess is nothing but feather beds, gold and gems and servants waiting on you hand and foot. Well... I guess in some kingdoms it is... but not here that's for sure. It's been a strict Guardia tradition that you have to learn to be "normal" before you learn how to be royal. So they forced me to learn to cook and clean and sew and all sorts of stuff."
"Well I didn't say I did them WELL. In fact I'll admit that I skipped most of the classes... heh. Or slept through them... but dishes were my nemesis. It's incredibly hard to sleep through washing dishes... and... well... you've met our cook."
"Yeah I wouldn't want to try anything around her."
Marle pushes herself up off the couch.
"So gimme a cloth."
"Hold it! You sure you're up to standing all that time? He just took that stabilizer off your leg."
Marle sighs impatiently.
"You know you only need to add an 's' to mother to get 'smother'."
Marle stands up and walks to the kitchen table with little difficulty and gets her hands on one of the chairs.
"Look. This is a chair. They move."
She pushes one of the chairs up to the sink.
"And then you sit on them."
She sits on the chair.
"Like so. See? Gimme a towel. You wash I dry. And if I get unbearably tired I'm sure you can finish without me while I go lie down on the couch again, right?"
"Ok fine. I guess I can live with that."
He gives her a towel and a dish.
"How did you do that without bumping into anything?"
"What are you talking about? I've been here hundreds of times. And I definitely spent as much time as possible here while you were gone. I can 'see' everything just as well as you can probably. Just don't change anything on me."
Crono's mind wandered as they washed and dried, until a thought struck him.
"Hey... Lucca told me in one of her letters that she heard a rumor that you got a death threat, but that she didn't believe it. Then when you were arguing with Ben about leaving, you kept mentioning wanting to leave earlier. How long in advance did you know Revick was coming?"
Marle continued wiping the plate in silence.
"He sent his first 'warning' or 'announcement of his arrival' or whatever not long after I took the throne. So maybe 8 years. Close to 9." she answers quietly.
Crono nearly dropped the dish he was washing.
"EIGHT years? And this still happened? Why didn't you prepare??? Why didn't you call me???"
"I did prepare. In fact I prepared very carefully. I told you before, I'm big on insurance. You saw the size of that army. Nothing would stop that aside from an army of equal size, and that would take almost the entire kingdom of Guardia to equal, and the entire kingdom of Guardia doesn't consist of hardened soldiers you know. Throwing housewives and carpenters into the army makes it larger sure, but they just end up another number on the "deaths" sheet. But if it weren't for Revick's arrogance, Guardia would be lost. I'm thankful for that at least. Would he bother ANNOUNCING his arrival EIGHT YEARS in advance if we had the power to knock him flat? No. He obviously felt secure enough to taunt us a bit first. He felt secure enough to let me live too, no matter how close to dead I was. That's his mistake."
"What about all those allied countries you know so many languages for?"
"Most of them are small peaceful trade countries that only have enough troops to defend themselves against small foes, and even their best aren't half as well trained as the Guardia army. And Guardia is the largest of them all. Banding them all together would have put up a better fight for sure but we probably would have lost anyway and the death toll would just be higher, and we would have a bunch of annoyed allies who were left nearly defenseless. Ben insisted on putting up the palisades with every man we could spare even though I knew any soldier stationed there was basically committing suicide. But Ben adopted the military department and became "senior" monarch of it and I don't have the power to overrule him there without majorly pulling rank and going through a complicated process.
"It's rather annoying really. Guardia has a law book that weighs about 50 pounds just for matters in the castle. And they are all specific to Guardia. Sure it's a good system most of the time, I mean it's survived how many millennia now, but they sure can get in the way.
"Anyway. I basically decided to kill as few people as possible and secure Guardia in other ways. I figure Revick is like a locust. He swoops in to some poor country, takes it over, sucks it dry and then marches off with as many men as he can. How else could he have gotten an army the size of several small countries? And how else can he sustain that army? We just have to make sure Guardia survives the 'sucking dry' part.
"Oh. That reminds me. Make sure you have LOTS of supplies in your cellar. Things are bound to get hard before we kick that pompous ass off my throne. Oh and make sure you have LOTS of salt. Lots and lots of salt."
Before Crono could ask why, Lucca came charging in.
"I'VE DONE IT! It works!!! Well it 'worked' anyway. But it should keep working! I've programmed this entire book into the machine and the Library says you can keep the book as long as you need!"
"All right Lucca! I love you! It's not going to explode or anything is it?" Marle asks.
Lucca inhales deeply.
"My inventions do NOT explode! Much... Bah this would hardly make a *poof* anyway. Here I'll show you how to work it."
Lucca moves over to Marle's usual spot on the couch and puts the flat box on the table sitting beside it.
Marle gets up out of her chair and starts moving it back, but Crono stops her.
"I'll do that. Go on."
Marle walks over to the couch and then stops.
"Ok Lucca where are you. I don't want to sit on you or anything."
"It's ok your spot is clear. I made sure I didn't block it on you."
Marle sits down and tilts her head as she listens to Lucca clattering around with the machine.
"I hope this is a one shot set up... that sounds too complicated for me."
"Yeah that's my fault. I stuffed everything inside to bring it over and now all the wires are tangled. How do wires do that? Tie knots in themselves and to each other when both ends are plugged in. It's aggravating! Ahhhh I got it. Here."
Lucca hands some headphones to Marle.
"That's the headset. The volume control is on the right side. That way you won't annoy anyone with "reading out loud". Only problem is you probably won't be able to HEAR anyone either. But you don't care what Crono says anyway right? He's usually pretty quiet. Actually.. I can make a new set of headphones with only one ear output, leaving the other one free to hear your surroundings.... hmmmm"
Marle explored the headset with her fingers while Lucca wrestled with some more wires coming from the box.
"Ok.. So that goes on your head, volume to the right. Then this wire here.. Plugs into this hole here... I marked it "headset" so if it comes out and you can't find it then Crono can plug it back in for you... And then you take the book like this..."
Lucca drops a huge book into Marle's lap and opens it to page one.
"And take this doodad that's kinda like a pen... It plugs into this hole. It's got a sensor in it that's programmed to pick up the words. I couldn't program it with EVERY word in the universe though, but it should have every word in this book. If you find one it doesn't then just call me and I'll stick it in. The drawback is that it's REALLY bad at reading. Very monotone. But you still hear the words and once you learn this braille stuff it won't matter anyway.
"Anyway you take the pen doodad and run it over the page like this. Put on the headset and lemme know if it works properly."
Lucca flips a switch on the machine and guides Marle's hand over the page.
"Woah! That is so cool!" Marle says. "Sounds kinda like my old history teacher but it'll be a lot better than lying here doing nothing."
"The power switch is right there. Just flick that for on and off. You can probably read all sorts of books with this right now, but you'll undoubtedly run across words it doesn't know. And there's no way it's perfect. For one, I can't figure out how to prevent your hand from drifting downward so that you don't get 'once upon a time there, Mary had a little lamb' from skipping to the line below..."
"This is fine Lucca. Thank you very VERY much. I'm sure Crono does too 'cause now he won't have to listen to how bored I am."
"Yeah but now I won't be able to talk to her because she'll be reading. Thanks a LOT Lucca. Now I'M going to be bored."
"Oh bah. What should I invent for YOU then?"
Crono just chuckles and goes back to his dishes.
*yup. more time passes*
Crono walked home from the market, towing a handcart full of supplies. He had decided that what Marle had said about Revick being a "locust" made sense, and that stocking the cellar would be prudent. He had gotten some strange looks, but who cares. He had also made sure to pick up a lot of salt for Marle. He had no idea what she would want salt for but she had made it sound too important for him to dismiss.
"This has actually been really nice. Marle is like a breath of fresh air. Normally all this housework would kill me, but with Marle there chatting and helping I'm almost disappointed when it's done. Now I know what those guards meant when they said that when Marle was there the castle lit up.
"I wish the circumstances were different though. I wonder if this is what it would be like to be married to her. Working side by side to get things done. Talking, laughing... sharing everything. Taking care of each other. Except it would be more intimate... and more permanent. Definitely happier. Warmer.
"Oh don't even go there. You'll just get yourself all depressed. The law says if you aren't a prince you can take a long walk off a short pier and you aren't a prince. Besides she's already married a prince, and he became her king, and she's a queen. And she's got a kingdom to rescue. And you're going to help her."
By this time Crono was within sight of his house.
He blinked in surprise when he saw Marle sitting on the front porch. She was wearing some of the clothing his mom had bought for her and some glasses Lucca had blacked out with paint and given to her. She appeared to be shaving the bark off a big tree limb with a knife.
"Hey Mar!" he called to her. She looks up in surprise and listens carefully.
Crono pulls up to the house shortly.
"What are you doing out here?" he asks.
"Oh, hi Crono. That headset was starting to give me an earache so I decided to get some fresh air."
He sits on the porch beside her.
"Whatcha making? Or you just whittling?"
"Probably nothing but a useless hunk of wood in the end, but I'm going to attempt to tiller a bow. Used to be a hobby in my spare time but I've gotten rusty at it. Not to mention I don't have the right tools. Next time you're in the market can you find the fletcher and get me a proper wood shaper and all that? Maybe some fletching supplies too. If this flops I can always try for an arrow out of what's left..."
Crono ponders for a minute.
"So... where did you get the branch?"
Marle looks slightly guilty.
"I... um... walked up to the stand of trees north of here and found it."
"You what?? Do you know how dangerous that was? What if you got turned around and headed off in the wrong direction???"
"Oh give me a little credit. I told your mom what I was doing and how long I intended to be, and I checked the position of the sun before I left. If I got turned around I could find my way back by it's heat on my face. Besides there's practically a path from here directly to it. It may not be visible but the ground is a lot harder and packed down. Probably from deer or something. And besides! The shore line is right there. If I got really desperate I could listen for the water and follow that. The biggest problem I had was tripping over stones and roots.
"Oh! And there's another thing you can pick up for me at market. I'd like a quarterstaff. Not a big one... but I can use that as a sort of cane to check for things in front of me AND to defend myself if needed."
Crono shakes his head with frustration, but it is mixed with a touch of pride.
"Maybe I WILL have to put a leash on you."
"You couldn't even catch me let alone leash me." snickers Marle.
"No... probably not at that. Oh! Here I got you something." he says, rummaging in the cart. "Mom was right, that old housecoat of mine is no good for you. So I found this."
He pulls out a long, silky housecoat lined with warm fabric.
Her eyebrows rise as she fingers it.
"You can't afford this Crono."
"Normally, no. But the merchant had it so long that it was getting dirty, and apparently everyone else decided they couldn't afford it either. He gave me a really good deal on it. It's Royal Blue. I know that's one of your favorite colors."
"Kind of ironic isn't it?"
"I was thinking that too."
They chuckle together for a minute, then she hugs him and kisses his cheek, snuggling up to him.
"Thank you. I'll probably never get dressed now. Your mom has been nagging me to try on all her clothes, but I REALLY don't want to. It's like having a valet all over again."
"She's got to have something to do. She's even more bored than you are."
Marle nods, then tilts her head.
"Not as many birds out. Winter is coming. Feels like it will rain tonight too."
"You're about three times as accurate as the weatherman you know? You'll have to teach me to do that."
Marle just smiles.
Crono sat on the couch, glaring at the paper in front of him. The numbers signifying their remaining money was swiftly reaching the point where it would be dwarfed by the amount they needed to spend to feed everyone in the house.
He grumbles quietly to himself and tries to think of somewhere he can get a job in Truce. The time he needs to take care of his mother and Marle cuts into the hours he can spare for a job.
"Unless I just quit sleeping. I hardly ever sleep well anyway." he thinks to himself, sighing.
"Crono?" says Marle, from her bedroom door.
Crono looks up with concern when he hears the fear in her voice.
"Oh... uh... what time is it?" she says, but he can tell she is relieved.
"Getting pretty late. Maybe close to midnight."
She nods and smiles.
"Ok... thanks." she says, and turns to go back to bed.
"Mar, wait. What's wrong."
"Oh... nothing. I... nothing."
She starts for the door again.
"Nuh uh you get back here and sit."
Marle sighs, then turns around and walks to the couch, where Crono makes room for her.
"What?" she asks.
"You tell me."
"Bah it's nothing. Just a stupid nightmare."
"The same one?"
"Well... that one too." she grumbles. "I'm not having a good night I guess. What are you doing up so late?"
"Figuring out our budget. Feeding all three of us with Revick's taxes is killing my bank account. Where am I going to get a job though. I can't just leave you two."
"I can take care of her. It would just be incredibly lonely until you got back home."
"But who's going to take care of you."
"Me. Who else." she says, jabbing him with her elbow. "I'm fine now, really. And I'm sure you'll nag Lucca to 'drop by' every 15 minutes to check on me anyway."
"You know you're really sneaky with that."
"Changing the subject and evading my questions. You had ANOTHER nightmare?"
Marle sighs resignedly.
"So... what happened?"
"Was more reliving memories than a nightmare I guess. I just kept seeing Revick laughing at me and that glowing iron coming for my eye... I passed out before they finished though so that's where it ends... but it just kept repeating. And then it switched and I was back in that blasted coffin again! And then I woke up."
He pulls her into a hug.
"Just go back to the budget. How much less do I have to eat?" she says.
"Nothing if I can find a job. Maybe the inn will have something for me. Or maybe Fritz can get me a job at his dads store..."
He kept talking about possible ideas, no matter how farfetched. Just to keep her company. Soon, he noticed her breathing begin to slow, and she drifted off to sleep in his arms.
Carefully, he lifted her and took her back to her bed, but as he set her down, she woke with a start.
"It's ok. Sorry. I tried not to wake you."
"No... it's ok. My fault for falling asleep on you."
"There, you're set. I'll see you in the morning. Good night." he says, and kisses her hand.
But as he turns to leave, she doesn't let go.
"Can't you stay?" she asks.
"Nooo... I mean..."
She goes silent for a minute.
"I hate the night. It's so quiet. I spend half the night straining my ears for any sign of life. Every cricket chirp... and then I get those dreams... If it's not the coffin when I'm asleep it's just like that dungeon cell they threw me in when I'm awake. I was only half conscious but I was happy when a rat came by because I could listen to it scurry around. If you hadn't been out there tonight I probably would have been awake until you got up in the morning and started banging around. I just want the company... I guess... Sleep on top of the covers... On the FLOOR if you want. Just stay."
"But you don't HAVE to stay." she adds hurriedly.
"After THAT you think I'm going to walk out?" he chuckles. "Mom is gonna flip though. Oh well."
He flops onto the bed beside her.
"So, can I brag that I've slept with the queen now?" he teases.
"Hardly. I'm not queen anymore remember?"
"Yeah.. and no laws apply to you and you don't exist Revick said. Sooo... what's stopping us from getting married now?"
Marle scratches her head.
"He said that?"
"Yeah, right after he smacked you off the stage."
"Well that was pretty dumb... he obviously didn't think that one through. I can probably use that."
"I don't think he expected you to live. He probably thinks you're rotting 6 feet under right now. And he probably figured that if you were fair game you would have everyone in town hunting for your head. He didn't count on the fact that everyone loves you."
"Hrmm. Yeah. So basically I can do anything I want... and he can't arrest me or take any legal action to stop me... but then... he can shoot me for it. BUT I have pretty much the entire kingdom of Guardia ready to protect me and there wouldn't be a thing he could do about it since I 'don't exist'... But then again why would a rat listen to his own rules."
"So can a dead, nonexistent former queen marry a peasant boy?"
"A dead, nonexistent former queen couldn't take out the permits to get married. Especially not if no laws apply to her."
"Oh who cares about his permits and laws. It's the vows and stuff that count anyway."
"I don't intend to leave him on the throne, and the minute I become a not-so-dead, re-existing, reinstated queen, all those annoying laws snap back into place. Maybe if he were making Guardia prosper and flourish I could say 'oh well I guess I'm a terrible queen who doesn't deserve the throne' and do whatever the hell I wanted to... But I'm not letting Guardia crumble just so I can pursue the life I've always wanted. As much as I would love to..."
"Ok wait... Guardia has so many laws that there's gotta be a loophole somewhere! If a queen is married to someone 'unsuitable' when she takes the throne... what happens? Is the marriage just annulled?"
"Possibly. It's been awhile since I've gone through that section. It could be anything from having the marriage annulled, to preventing me from taking the throne at all, to having to kill you to break the marriage bond which is NOT something I feel like doing... but there's at least one really old law in there that says something like that..."
"Ok... How about this. Nadia is the queen. Marle is my wife. Can't we just pretend they're two different people? How can I screw up your blood purity or whatever if you keep your royal heirs over there and me over here."
"Because what if we don't know which ones are the royal ones? And I don't need you and Ben squabbling over who 'gets' me tonight" she chuckles. "But that is interesting. Nadia Guardia and Marle Trieste... Hmm."
"Maybe AFTER you've made some heirs? Is there like a set limit you need?"
"Once they take the throne from me I'm home free... But there's always the possibility of some idiot like Revick coming along and slaughtering your entire family so there's bunches of laws preventing it until you've 'done your duty' so to speak. There's only a remote chance of half the things they're designed to prevent, but when you look at some of the useless laws in the book that were written to solve specific situations..."
"So how old will you be when you retire. 60? 70?" Crono sighs.
"Oh probably. We can still get married though. I'll clean your dentures for you." she says, nudging him.
He rolls over and puts his arm around her.
"Oh well it was worth a try. This is close enough anyway. I have you around all the time and look where I am." He grins.
"Good night and no bad dreams." he says.
"Good Night, Crono." she replies, snuggling into him.
Time marches on endlessly, unceasingly.
Marle got swiftly and steadily better until she was back to normal except for the lack of her eyes. She also became very adept at moving around, so much so that Crono sometimes forgot she couldn't see. But he noticed that the better she got, the more distant she seemed to become. He frequently found her apparently lost in deep thought with a worried frown on her face. He assumed she was worrying about Ben and what was happening to her kingdom.
Her foretold "hard times" were already starting, barely a year after the invasion. Revick's huge army robbed the merchants of most of their food and supplies, and prices skyrocketed. Revick raised taxes and cut funding to most everything to pay the wages, stopping funding completely on some things. He demanded that all the best of everything be made only for him, and lived in riches and finery while the people slowly began to starve.
Thanks to Marle's clairvoyance, Crono had stocked a good amount of food and supplies before the market started crashing, so they weren't too badly off just yet.
Crono never found a permanent job, but he managed to find enough errands and small jobs to keep the bank account ahead of the taxes and bills, which made him happy because he spent less time away from home. The 'haves' started giving to the 'have-nots' when things started getting tough, and everyone in Truce fared more or less the same in the end, testament to the close knit community that had been built there. But Revick's demands out-stripped Truce, and every day saw more bare shelves at the shops.
Marle managed to occupy her days and keep back the boredom. When she wasn't studying the braille book, she was helping Crono with what chores she could, or sitting outside creating piles of wood shavings while trying to carve her bow from the branch. Crono found a quarterstaff at the market that was the right size and weight for her and not too cumbersome for use as a "guiding cane" and she carried it everywhere with her. She also got into the habit of wearing Lucca's blacked out glasses all the time, even though Crono told her it wasn't necessary.
Crono was kept busy with chores and helping his mother. Marle's health improved and her independence kept her self sufficient, and in fact she helped him more than he helped her now. But his mother's health was declining. She was starting to find even small things like getting out of her chair too difficult, and her embroidery became even more shaky every day. Crono could tell she was extremely frustrated, and worried about what was wrong, but there was nothing he could think of to do to fix it. The doctor could only prescribe pain medication, which, of course, kept her in bed sleeping most of the time.
Crono looks up from the food he is preparing as Marle comes in the door and leans the 'almost-but-not-quite-bow-shaped' branch and her staff against the couch.
"Brrr. Getting too cold to sit out there. But I'll make too much of a mess in here. Rats. I might have to give up on my bow until spring comes."
"Maybe we can find some newspaper or something to catch the shavings." Crono says.
"Hmm.. Maybe. I'm sure if we tell Lucca she'll invent some kind of whatchamacaulit to suck up the shavings before they hit the ground."
"Oh. A messenger just came and said this telegram is for your mom, or you."
She drops the slip of yellow paper on the table and goes back to take off her coat.
Crono picks up the telegram and reads it carefully.
"So who's it from?" Marle asks, plopping on the couch and digging the reading machine out from under it.
"That doctor in Choras... he says he's got some new medicine that worked wonders on some of his patients with the same problem mom has."
"That's great! Maybe this one will work."
"Yeah... but he says for some reason he can't export anything to Truce right now so I have to go down there and get it."
"You have to leave?"
"Yeah. I think this is important enough to go get. I'll probably be back in a week."
"I've heard that before."
"Yeah but this time I'm leaving my mother behind! I won't take long I promise."
"You better not. I'll go down there to get you and give you a heart attack when you think of all the things that might have happened to me on the trip." she smirks.
"Don't you dare. I'll chain you to your bed before I leave so you stay out of trouble."
"You do that and I'd probably end up gnawing my leg off just to get out. In case you hadn't noticed I don't enjoy being cooped up."
"Um... are you burning something?"
Crono curses and turns off the stove and moves the pan.
"Hope you like it extra crispy..."
"Actually I don't... but I'll live. Charcoal is supposed to be good for you."
Marle stood on the dock with Crono, waiting for him to board the ferry for Choras.
"Well. Isn't this familiar." she says.
"Are you SURE you can get back ok?"
"Yes yes for the last time YES! Stop worrying. It's not far anyway. You can probably see it from here, can't you."
"And you know where mom's medication is..."
"And you know where those meals I pre-prepared are?"
"Yes Crono. Stop worrying! We'll be fine. Just hurry back."
"There should be enough food and everything..."
"Go on! The boat will leave without you. It's whistling last call already."
"And if you have ANY trouble call Lucca!" he finishes hurriedly.
He turns to board the boat then hesitates, turns back and gives Marle a kiss.
"And be careful damn you. I know you're thinking you're free but I swear when I get back..."
Marle laughs and gives him a little push.
"GO or you won't have to worry because you won't be leaving."
He jumps on the boat and she leans on her staff.
"I'll be back soon! As soon as I can!" he yells.
Marle just nods and waves.
The boat moves away and he watches as she pulls her coat around her and walks off the dock toward home.
Telegram for 'Marle' and 'Mom' from Crono Trieste
Got Medicine STOP For some reason boat won't go back to Truce STOP something about Trade ban STOP looking for private boat STOP hope to be back soon STOP Love Crono STOP
*about a month after Crono left again*
Crono gratefully enters the door to his house, glad to be home.
He grins when he see's his mom sitting in her chair holding a book, looking surprised.
"Hi mom! Finally got a boat to bring me back."
"Oh I'm so glad you got back ok. Why did they say they weren't running the ferries?"
"Something about a Trade ban. They said they had strict orders not to go to Truce anymore. Even the private captains said they wouldn't, but they gave me a ride to Porre and I walked up. Talk about a pain, but I guess the exercise is good for me. My feet sure hurt now...
"Oh I got your medicine. Here take one now. Supposed to take three a day but these will still make you sleepy."
He digs out a small bottle of pills and gives one to his mother with a glass of water. While she is taking it, he looks around and asks, "where's Marle?"
"Well if her staff isn't there she'll either be at the market, Lucca's place or out for a walk. We made a sort of system to keep track of each other."
"She's where??? You let her go out by herself?"
"Oh she's perfectly fine. She never leaves me alone for more than a couple hours though. Oh except for the first two weeks you were gone... She said she had to go do something and it would be best to do it when you weren't here to flip out about it. She had Lucca drop by and check on me and she was gone for a week, and then came and checked on me, and then was gone for another week. She said she can't tell me what she was doing though. She's probably afraid I'll tell you. But other than that she took better care of me than I needed.
"Oh stop pacing. She'll be fine. In fact she should be due home anytime now. After those two weeks she almost totally lost that quiet worried look she's been getting more and more frequently.
"See! There she is now. With Lucca. Honestly Crono, I can see why she says you smother her at times." his mom chuckles.
Lucca and Marle enter the house, talking and laughing. Crono folds his arms and gives his best stern look.
Lucca stops. "Uh oh. You're in for it now Marle."
"Crono is glaring at you."
"Well good thing I can't see him then. It's about time you got your butt back home young man."
"Just what do you think you're doing wandering off on your own???" he scolds.
"Wandering off on my own is exactly what I was doing. I don't go far, just to Lucca's or the Market to catch up on the news and get some air." she says, putting her staff in it's place against the couch and removing her coat.
"You went all the way to Lucca's by yourself??"
"Yes. I did."
"You know how dangerous that was?? What if Revick jumped out and killed you?"
"I think Revick is scared to come out of his... MY castle right now. Everyone in the market is grumbling about wanting his head in a basket. But even if he did ambush me, I can defend myself."
"With what? A big stick???"
Marle raises her eyebrow.
"Against army-trained guards? I don't think so."
Marle folds her arms and smirks.
"Well. You consider yourself an accomplished swordsman correct? I would rate you somewhat higher than the Guardia army average used to be. I'll kick your ass with my 'stick'."
She puts her coat back on and picks up her staff again.
"I highly doubt it Mar. I don't want to hurt you."
"Oh you won't. Use a practice sword. Or the Rainbow if you want. You won't be hitting me with it anyway."
"Ok then. If I win you have to stay put and listen to me."
"Agreed. If *I* win you have to stop being a pain in the neck."
Crono goes to a cupboard and pulls out an old wooden sword. The edge of it had been worn down to nothing, making it ideal for harmless practice. He then follows Marle out the door. Lucca trails behind.
Marle walks out a distance from the house and takes up a defensive stance with her staff. Crono goes and stands opposite her, holding his sword at ready.
"Lucca, you may give the signal to start whenever you feel ready." Marle says.
"This should be interesting." Lucca mutters.
Crono starts moving forward. Marle just stands there.
Just as Crono get's close enough and swings, Marle sidesteps and knocks his feet out from under him with the staff.
She backs up a few feet and snickers.
"Ok wait! Start over! I was too worried about hurting you to do my best there." Crono says, standing and dusting himself off. He backs up to his previous position, and Marle moves back to her starting point.
Lucca rolls her eyes. "And GO!"
Crono moves out to the side. Once again, Marle just stands there.
As he moves in closer, she changes her grip on the staff.
Crono closes in to attack range and attempts to swing at her back, but it never connects! He suddenly gets knocks forward as her staff smacks him on the butt.
Marle smiles innocently.
"That's it!! One more time and I'm NOT holding back."
Marle just chuckles and moves back to starting position.
Lucca stifles a snicker and yells "GO! Again!"
Crono lunges directly at Marle.
Marle shifts her grip and swings the staff at Crono, nailing his sword hand and knocking the sword from his grip!
Crono curses and staggers back, then tackles Marle.
She wasn't expecting that. Surprised, she just manages to hold up the staff horizontally in front of her, before she gets knocked over backward by Crono, rolling.
But when Crono stops, she doesn't. She uses her momentum and tosses Crono right overtop of her, using the staff as a fulcrum for leverage.
He lands on his back, the wind knocked out of him. Marle keeps rolling and uses the staff to vault into a standing position, then snaps back into defensive stance.
"Ow. I'm not done yet! You haven't won!" Crono says, struggling into standing position.
Marle just waits.
Crono snatches up his sword, which he landed near, and stops and assesses the situation.
Then he carefully begins to move, trying to make as little noise as possible.
Marle tilts her head, listening. She changes grip on the staff again, and raises her eyebrow.
Crono quietly slips into position directly behind her, and starts creeping forward.
When he gets close enough, he makes another lunge, but Marle whirls and swings the staff. It connects with his head!
Crono slumps to the ground, unconscious.
"Ack! I didn't mean to hit him that hard!" Marle says, kneeling beside him and inspecting the swiftly growing lump on his head. "Help me get him inside."
Lucca runs over and between them they pack Crono back into the house.
Crono's mom looks up in surprise.
"I take it he lost?" she says, getting out of her chair and clearing off the couch.
"Oh dear... Get a towel and the ice pack out of the freezer Lucca. I really smacked him." Marle says.
Lucca can barely control the snickering as Marle places the towel-wrapped ice pack on Crono's head.
"Well I guess you humbled him eh? Good thing he has such a hard head." Lucca says.
"Who wants tea? Besides me that is. It's getting COLD out there." she says, filling up the kettle at the sink.
Just as the kettle starts boiling, Crono starts waking up.
"Ooo... What... hey what happened?"
"Marle kicked your ass with her stick." Lucca says, still snickering.
Marle looks slightly sheepish.
"I really didn't mean to hit you that hard. It was a sneak attack and instinct took over. Are you ok? Want some tea?"
"Some tea and maybe one of those pain killers. I really have a headache now."
"Just has to steep for a few minutes..."
"Ok wait. How the hell did you do that??"
"What? Kick your ass?"
"Yeah. I had a major advantage there... you can't even see for crying out loud..."
"So you think. I've been training Quarterstaff almost as long as I've been training archery. And one type of training they put me through involved being blindfolded. Being blind actually gave me more of an advantage because I was used to it. My other senses are twice as sensitive to make up for the loss. On top of that, a staff will always have an advantage over a sword. It has more disadvantages overall though. I still prefer archery, but eyes are invaluable for that." she chuckles. "You underestimated me... again. That's the biggest advantage of all."
Crono just groans and closes his eyes, holding the ice pack.
Marle pours the tea and hands everyone a cup, setting hers and Crono's on the table beside the couch. She shoves Crono's legs out of the way and sits down on the couch.
"So. I win. You can't tell me what to do or not to do anymore."
Crono grumbles some more, then sighs.
"But PLEASE be careful. If Revick finds out he didn't kill you it's very likely he'll come back to finish the job, and he's always got that messenger person wandering around the square. They could see you at market."
"Yeah I thought of that too. But is he really that stupid? The people already hate him and are on the verge of a revolt. Killing me would be just enough to make them mad enough to try one. But I always wear the hood of my coat up in the hopes that he'll pass over me as some beggar or something. The merchants there have covered for me a few times already, and I've had to pretend to BE a beggar once or twice. But I get too much information there to just stop going."
"You're gonna kill me."
Marle just chuckles.
"Oh.. Speaking of information.." Crono says, "The boat dropped me off in Porre and I had to walk or hitch a ride up to Truce, so I did a bit of asking around for your father."
"They said Revick DID go through there but they don't know exactly what happened. Your father disappeared. They were going to ask someone who might know more but I didn't have time to stay. There should be a telegram coming soon."
"I hope he's ok. If he was eliminating all claims to the Guardia throne that would include dad." she says worriedly.
Lucca drains her cup then says, "I really have to go. I left an experiment running back home and it's about due to get adjusted. Thanks for the tea... and entertainment! And welcome home Crono."
She puts on her coat and heads out the door.
The fluffy kitten jumps up to the back of the couch and onto Marle's shoulder and starts purring against her ear, making her giggle.
"So. Where did you go for two whole weeks Mrs. Independent?"
Marle stays quiet for a minute, then says, "I can't tell you. I promised."
"Actually I can't tell you that either." she chuckles. "But don't worry, I'm even safer there than I am here, guaranteed."
"So I take it that means you'll be going back."
"I have to. Not permanently, just every now and then to make sure everything is ok. Believe me if I was allowed to tell you I would..."
"Yeah yeah yeah... keep your stupid secrets." he says, grinning.
Crono's mom pulls herself out of her chair and stretches.
"Well, someone should get started on dinner." she says.
"Oh, I'll help you." Marle says, and starts to stand.
"No no... I want to see if I can still do this. You two have been spoiling me and I feel a lot better now with those new pills."
She walks to the kitchen and starts digging through the fridge for something to prepare.
Marle scratches her head, then shrugs and pulls out a book from under the couch.
"You've learned how to read that already?" Crono asks.
"After so many languages, learning a new one gets easier. This actually took me a lot longer than usual. The biggest problem is keeping them all straight in your head, but that's not a problem with this."
She flips the book open to where it is marked and starts running her fingers over the combinations of bumps that make up the Braille alphabet.
"How's your head?" Marle asks, taking the warm ice pack from Crono.
"Oh fine, as long as I don't touch it. I'll still have a nice lump there though."
"I'm so sorry..."
"Bah don't be. I'll challenge you to a rematch someday." he grins.
"Hah. I'll kick your butt then too."
"We'll just see. Did you miss me while I was gone? Or were you just happy that you could do whatever and not have me breathing down your neck." he says, nudging her.
"Both. It sure was quiet at night without you snoring in my ear. But for me, quiet isn't a good thing, anymore. Speaking of which, I should probably follow your mothers example and go to bed." Marle says, yawning.
"Shall I come snore in your ear to help you sleep?" Crono asks, laughing.
"Go for it. I'm certainly not going to kick you out." she replies, chuckling as she walks through her bedroom door.
*not long after*
Crono flipped through the papers, frowning. Their money supply was running thin, as was everything in Guardia. They were already eating smaller meals, but the cellar was still fairly well stocked. Marle had come home from the market saying that there was talk of everyone pooling their money to pay for taxes and rationing out all remaining food and supplies equally, doing away with most of the market for now. Crono didn't know if that would be such a good idea though.
He glanced out the window at the oncoming night. Almost every window in the castle was lit.
Sighing, he put the papers aside and started watching Marle, who was diligently working on her bow on some newspaper laid out in the corner. She had done a lot of work on it during that month he was in Choras, and it was almost done from what he could see. Her glasses sat on the table by the couch. She complained that they fell off while she was bent over her bow, which was understandable since they were made for Lucca's face, not hers.
"How's it coming?" he asks.
"A lot better than I expected actually. The balance is off but that's fairly easy to fix, as long as I don't end up shaving too much off and ending up with a toothpick. I've got the notches and arrow-rest in already. We should actually buy a bow-string before the fletcher packs up and leaves. Even if this bow doesn't make it that far, I might try again."
There came a knock at the door.
Crono went to answer it and Marle stood and brushed the wood shavings off her housecoat.
Crono closed the door a few minutes later, a telegram in his hand.
"Who was it?" Marle asks, sitting on the couch.
"A telegram..." Crono says, reading it.
Crono remains silent.
Marle raises her eyebrow.
"Um... Mar... Your father is dead. They found him in the forest. Revick hung him from a tree."
Marle exhales slowly.
"...Oh..." she says.
Crono sits beside her on the couch.
After a moment, a single tear slips down Marle's cheek. She wipes it off and rubs the damp finger with her thumb.
"I guess my tear ducts have healed." she comments distantly.
Another tear follows, and Crono puts his arm around her.
"He's taken so much from me..." she whispers.
She doesn't resist when Crono pulls her into an embrace.
Then she cries.
All the anger, pain, frustration and anguish pour out of her, until finally she is so exhausted that she falls asleep in his arms.
She didn't even stir when he carried her to her bed.
Crono came through the door, tired after finishing a job for one of the shopkeepers in town. Jobs were fewer and farther between as money ran thinner, but taxes just kept increasing. Revick was sucking Guardia dry.
"Hi." he says to Marle, who is sitting, working at her bow again. She was almost completely finished, just polishing and fine tuning minor details and checking for mistakes she may have made.
She grunts a reply.
He watched her worriedly as he hung his coat. She had become increasingly quieter as time passed. Crono knew Marle, and having her this close for so long had made him even more sensitive to her moods. He could see a storm coming... and a big one. She had reached the limits of her patience with Revick, but didn't know where to go next. He had to make sure she didn't do something stupid. She disappeared for a week every now and then, he assumed off to wherever she couldn't tell him about. She always made sure to leave him a sign that she was gone though.
And now he was even more worried. He had gone with her to the market to get a proper bowstring for her bow, and Revick's men saw her. They had made some rude comments and some lewd comments and then rushed off to tell Revick. Who knows what would happen now.
On the bright side, the fletcher had said that Marle's bow was better quality than most in his shop. If there had been money to spare he would have bought it from her, and they certainly could have used the money. He gave her an old arrow to test the bow with, but Crono didn't know how much good that would be. He wasn't a big archer, and Marle was blind...
"Want some tea?" he asks.
"They're saying the food supplies have run out." Crono says as he waits for the kettle to be filled. "And our cellar is almost bare. I don't know what we're going to do next."
"I think I'm finished..." Marle says, running her fingers over the bow. "I should probably make some arrows... I hope I don't mess them up though. We only have two arrowheads and flight sets...
"You got salt right?" she says suddenly.
"Yeah..." Crono says, scratching his head. "You know you never told me..."
"We'll be fine then." she says, cutting him off. "You know how to use a bow Crono? And hit what you aim at?"
"That's what I thought. I'll have to teach you."
"Because, as much as I hate to do it, we're going to have to poach in my own forest. The forest on the far side of Guardia castle is full of wildlife, including deer. It's sealed off to prevent hunting though, but I know how to get in, of course. I practically grew up there. There aren't many archers in Truce, unfortunately. If we can get enough of them together we can feed the town for a good while, preserving the meat with the salt and smoking it or freezing it. We'll be so sick of venison... but compared to the alternative..."
"Marle... you're a genius."
"No... I just don't enjoy the prospect of starving. Half those deer are my friends you know."
"Wouldn't Lucca's gun be faster?"
"Definitely not. You'd be lucky to shoot two with one of those. They're so loud it would scare everything within 5 miles... not to mention alert Revick."
"We have that arrow from the fletcher, and I'll see if I can make more. If you can get a proper party together they'll probably share arrows though, I just have to get you to the point where you won't waste them."
Marle patiently instructed Crono on how to use her bow until he could hit a target from fairly far away. Lucca even attached a target to a belt so that he could practice hitting moving targets.
Crono told the people of Truce, and they gathered together the best archers and the strongest men.
Following Marle's directions, Crono led the group into the forest beyond the fence, and they stocked up enough meat to sustain the town for a long time. Reports from Porre and other Guardia towns showed that they had thought similarly, but not having Revick in their back yard made it much easier for them.
The entire kingdom switched to a barter system behind Revick's back, saving all money to go toward taxes. Once money was no longer a factor, even though none of the towns would trade with Truce, seeds and supplies were easier to get, and famine wasn't such a big threat. But soon the money was completely gone. Revick was not impressed.
"Uh oh." Crono says, reading the slip of paper that was waiting for them when they got back from their walk.
"Now what?" asks Marle.
"Revick is ticked. It says he's calling a gathering to 'discuss' the reasons we can't pay his taxes anymore, and that if anyone doesn't attend he'll have guards drag them out and flog them."
"We'd best go then. Being flogged is no fun, trust me."
"Bah, I wonder if he means EVERYONE everyone or just someone from every household. Mom just took another pill and she'll be drowsy. And I don't want you anywhere near him..."
"Hey! Guys!" came Lucca's voice. She was running up the path toward them.
"So you've seen it. I'm heading up there now, and mom and dad were already there shopping. What are we gonna do? We don't have any money to give him!" she says.
"I don't know." Crono says. "Marle, you stay here. I'm NOT letting him have a chance to get you. 'No laws apply' so you don't HAVE to go. I'm leaving my mother here too. She's too sick. Just... go inside and stay there. Hide in the cellar even. Pretend no one is home, just in case."
"That would probably be wisest." she says. "You be careful too. If those men told him who I was with at the market he could single you out."
Crono nods, then realizes Marle can't see that and says "Yeah."
He kisses her cheek, then says, "I'll be back as soon as I can. Be careful."
Marle nods and waves, then opens the door and goes inside.
The square was packed. Understandable when everyone in town was threatened to come or else. Crono and Lucca huddled into a back corner and waited.
Soon, the crowd parted as much as possible to allow Revick and his entourage through. They entered the amphitheater and appeared on the stage.
Revick sneers out at the crowd.
"Well. No money? That's really too bad. My troops wish to be paid. They aren't as fussy as you may think though. They'll accept anything valuable. If you have no money, you'll just have to give all your possessions to compensate. Anyone who CAN'T compensate, goes in the dungeon to rot. I have no time for villagers who can't contribute."
As a nervous, angry murmur rises from the crowd, a guard shoves his way through and runs up to the stage and whispers something to Revick.
Revick's face breaks into a cruel grin.
"Ooo some of you didn't heed my warning. I specifically told you that EVERYONE had to attend. But I do enjoy a public flogging, don't you?"
Crono feels his heart skip a beat. Lucca grabs his arm as guards begin to march through the crowd, dragging unlucky villagers.
Crono's mom and Marle are among them.
"Yes, they thought they could hide at home and be safe. They didn't think that I would search each house, but I did!" Revick chortles.
The guards roughly clear a large circle in front of the stage and line up the truant villagers. One smirks and pulls Marle off to the side.
"You may proceed Captain." Revick says, sounded mildly bored. He flops down into a throne-like chair that his servants drag onto the stage for him.
The entire line, including Crono's mom, are taken individually and thrashed thoroughly with a leather whip. Crono closes his eyes and tries not to listen. He can hear Lucca muttering nasty curses beside him.
Once his mother is discarded into the crowd, he rushes over and picks her up, bringing her back to the far corner.
Then a guard presents Marle to Revick.
"Welllll. I heard rumors that you were still kicking around out here 'your majesty'." Revick says, putting a sarcastic sneer on the title. "You're much harder to kill than you look. Somewhat similar to the roach that continues to live once you chop it's head off. Would YOU live if I chopped your head off?"
Marle just smiles.
"That's what I thought. Most roaches don't survive if you crush them beneath your heel though. The trick is catching them. Look! I've caught you!"
"Talk talk talk. I'm getting bored." she says.
Crono groans quietly.
"Why can't she just lose the attitude and look subservient for once???" he whispers to Lucca.
Lucca just shrugs helplessly.
Revick laughs quietly.
"My captain tells me you killed a good many of my men with your staff, trying to defend the old lady. Bored. I can fix that." he says.
He reaches beneath the skirting of his chair, pulling something out.
Time seemed to slow for Crono as he leapt up, yelling "NO!"
Revick pulls out a loaded crossbow and fires at Marle, hitting her directly in the chest.
She falls to her knees.
She knew the wound was fatal the minute the bolt hit her. Her world started going fuzzy within seconds. Revicks laughter was distant. She thought she heard Crono yell something, but wasn't sure. She could feel the blood soaking her clothing.
Although her hand suddenly weighed about a ton, she managed to lift it and grab hold of the pendant around her neck.
"I just need... to stay conscious... long enough... to remember..."
Crono watched numbly as Marle yanked on the pendant, breaking the chain and enclosing the stone in her fist.
Then... she yelled something, but not in any language he'd ever heard before.
As she slumped to the ground, her arm fell forward, and her hand opened, revealing the pendant.
It was shimmering.
The light seems to fill the square, blinding everyone for a minute. When it fades, a unified gasp rises.
Standing in the clearing is a giant red dragon.
It looks sadly down at the still form of Marle, then gently covers her with a massive wing, drawing her closer to its body.
Then it begins to glow faintly.
It raises its head and glares at Revick, who is sitting on his mock throne, eyes and mouth wide open and stammering. His guards had already fled.
"You did this." the dragon rumbles. "You dared to displace the rightful rulers of this land for your own greed. You dared to ruin my land."
A faint hissing noise emanates from the dragon, sounding somewhat like escaping steam.
The dragon looks out over the petrified crowd, and smiles! Or at least as close to a smile as a dragon can get.
"You have no need to fear me," it rumbles. "I am Draco, guardian of Guardia."
Draco stares up into the sky, then continues.
"Eons ago, my kind were common, but humans hated us. We were big and 'evil' though we would never have harmed one of them without just cause, and they prized our scales. We were constantly hunted. We live for a very long time, but were hunted nearly to extinction. The few of us remaining today stay hidden.
"A member of the Guardia line aided me in escaping the hunters, and was killed for his trouble. His family was left nearly helpless, and the object of scorn from the dragon haters. I felt responsible, and grateful, for though I hadn't asked for his help, I would have been killed without it. So I aided them in return. I saw the good in them, and gave them power. And with my help, his son became King Guardia the first, and helped to carve this kingdom out of the chaos that reigned.
"They offered me gifts of thanks, one of which was placing me on the royal Guardia crest, which still exists today. Their generosity touched me. I was merely repaying them for their loss, which I was responsible for, and yet they chose not to hate me, an 'evil' dragon, and instead, they considered me a good friend.
"It touched me so deeply, I cried. A dragon's tear is a very rare and special thing. It solidifies into a magical object."
Draco holds up the pendant.
"When used properly by the one who caused it, or by one of the same blood, it can do anything I wish for it to do. I gave it to them and told them they could call me. Once. In a time of great need. And that I would then aid them again, to repay them for their kindness.
"I have watched this kingdom over the centuries. Every time I felt certain they would use my favor, they would regroup and find another solution. The story of me was still passed down with the pendant, but it became more of a legend as years went by.
Draco turns toward Revick again, who shrinks down into his chair.
"Now YOU have caused Nadia to call me. And I will aid Guardia again, as her ancestor aided me."
Draco clenches the pendant in his claw and crouches down, overtop of where Marle should be hidden under his wing.
Another blinding flash fills the square, and when it fades, both Draco and Marle are gone.
Silence prevails for a long time.
Then Revick laughs, a little nervously.
"That was certainly the most interesting death I've ever seen..." he says, standing and trying to look in control of the situation.
The crowd begins to buzz.
Lucca glances over at Crono, who is just standing there with his mouth open, holding his unconscious mother.
"Wow." she says, simply.
"The Guardia family has always had a flare for the dramatic." Revick says with some of his old smugness back. "Good riddance though. Back to the matter at hand."
Crono stops listening as Revick drones on about how everyone had to pay him or else, and started tending to his mother.
She was badly hurt. If she had been younger and stronger it probably wouldn't have mattered, but in her current condition...
Lucca kneels beside him.
"How is she?" she asks
"Not good. I wish he would hurry up and shut up so I could get her home."
But Revick babbled on for awhile longer. Possibly waiting for his guards to slink back in after running from Draco so that he could leave without fear.
Finally, the assembly dismissed and Crono and Lucca carried his mother back home.
Crono paced back and forth.
The doctor had finally come, but he was so busy with all the other flogging victims that he couldn't spare too much time.
Lucca was fingering Marle's staff, which had been lying outside amid some blood. Marle had definitely put up a good fight.
Finally, the doctor comes out of the bedroom.
"I'm sorry Crono." he says quietly. "I don't think there's anything I can do. Her body can't take that kind of a beating. I gave her some pain killers but I don't think it will be enough. From the way her breathing is laboring, they probably collapsed a lung. All I can do is make her more comfortable. She probably won't wake up again."
Crono leans his forehead against the nearest wall.
Lucca quietly thanks the doctor and shows him out.
Crono sat with her the whole night. Just as dawn was breaking, she started to wake up.
Her eyes focused on him.
"Oh... Peter... I'm so glad you came back..." she says.
Crono was confused until he remembered that his fathers name had been Peter. His father had died before he was old enough to really know him.
She continued to mumble.
"You should see your son Peter... he's grown so much. As handsome as you ever were. And strong..."
She starts fading away again.
"I love you..." she whispers.
Crono brushes her hair back and says "I love you too, mom."
She gives one last wheezing breath... and is still.
Crono holds her hand for a long time, feeling the tears slip down his cheeks.
When he finally gets enough strength to move, he staggers out into the main room of the house, and collapses on the couch.
The couch... Where Marle used to sit.
The two lives he cared most about... gone... in the same day.
He was already so exhausted that the sobbing didn't take long to make him fall asleep.
Lucca worriedly knocked on the door again. Still no answer.
She made up her mind, and opened the door.
No one there.
"Hello? Crono?" she calls, entering.
Looking around, she sees everything as it usually is, except for an envelope on the kitchen table.
She takes a closer look at the envelope.
"Certificate of death for Maria Trieste."
Lucca sighs heavily. So she had died.
She searches the rest of the house, but there is no one there.
Lucca walks outside and scratches her head.
"Ok... so if I were an extremely depressed Crono who has basically lost everything... where would I go?" she says to herself.
After extensive searching and asking of questions, Lucca finally tracks Crono down at the local tavern.
"Aha! There you are." she says, approaching him. "This is one place I never would have thought to look."
She sits beside him and he looks at her with glassy eyes.
"I do believe you are slightly drunk Crono."
"You going to be ok?"
"Um... anything I can do?"
"It's not like you to waste time and savings on drinks..."
"Bartender gave me free ones. He knew."
"Ah.. ha... Well... I think you've had enough."
"You think she's dead?"
"I honestly have no idea. That defied all laws of science."
"Magic tends to do that." Crono says, smirking.
"Well... come on. You can stay at my place tonight. I'll keep you company."
"And keep you from doing anything stupid" she thinks, as she helps him out the door.
Things continued to get worse. Revick demanded more as the people had less to give. More villagers who couldn't make the taxes got thrown into the dungeon, never to be seen again.
Crono felt the anger building inside him with every day. All he could think of were Marle's words that night so long ago. "He's taken so much from me..."
Now he knew exactly what she meant, and he was mad.
But, was Marle alive or dead? She was dead for sure before that dragon popped out of nowhere. And it said it would help GUARDIA... it didn't say anything about Marle... But it HAD taken her wherever. But maybe it was just for a proper burial... Was it even coming back? It had been months already and Revick was back to his smug arrogant self, convinced it was all some elaborate trick to scare him.
Jobs were nonexistent now, and unnecessary. Everyone gave everything to everyone else and simply helped each other in turn. Crono kept himself busy by helping everyone. It kept his mind off the dark thoughts and his body out of the now silent and empty house. It also kept him from feeling so alone...
Crono couldn't help but wonder though... If Revick was a 'locust' like Marle had said... why was he still here? Guardia was almost sucked dry. He couldn't be getting much more out of it. But then... maybe he COULDN'T leave. The ferries hadn't been to Truce for years now. Whatever boats he used to get here in the first place obviously hadn't shown up either.
Someone at the tavern had said that before the ferries stopped running, one of the sea captains had told a tale of a battle with a giant fleet of transport ships. The transport ships had all been sunk with only minimal damage to the sea captain and his fleet, since they were so well equipped to defend against pirates. It had been dismissed as a wild story, but maybe the old captain had been telling the truth, and that had been Revick's fleet. He WOULD need lots of transport ships to bring that army over... And without ships to transport him away or contact wherever he was from to build more... He would be stranded.
"Great. Just great. We're stuck with him now." Crono thinks.
Crono shovels another fork full of hay into the pen for the livestock. He was helping a woman who's husband had been thrown into the dungeon. She couldn't handle all the chores herself.
"The problem with these farm jobs is that there isn't enough thinking involved, and too much time to think." he thinks, growling to himself about Revick.
He tosses the last fork full into the pen and then stabs the fork into the ground, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.
Then he stops.
In the forest beyond the far fence, he can see a young girl watching him. She was very young, perhaps early teens. Long sandy blonde hair falls past her shoulder. The foliage hides most of her. She obviously doesn't want to be seen.
When she realizes he's seen her... she... melts... it was the only way to describe it... into the forest.
Curious, he looks around. He had done all the chores here for today and he could come back and tell them later.
He sets off into the woods to follow her.
A few hours later, Crono fights his way back into the farmyard out of a bush that just won't let go.
"Not even a trace. Maybe I'm starting to see things now too. Uh oh."
He picks a few twigs from his hair and heads over to the main house to let them know everything was finished and why he took so long.
"A girl? No I don't think so. All my kids are here and there aren't many houses out here. Unless some family went for a picnic but that's highly unlikely with the state of things right now." the farmers wife says.
"I'm sure I saw her. But then she didn't leave any sign that she was actually there... Maybe it WAS just a trick of the mind."
"Too much sun." the wife says, feeling his forehead. "You should get a hat. We don't just wear those for the image you know." she says, chuckling.
"Oh well. Let me know if you need any more help. I need something to do anyway."
The wife looks at him sympathetically and nods.
Between odd jobs and Lucca finding things for him to do, Crono kept occupied enough to keep his mind from wandering. But at night, he would often lie there and think. He wanted to kick Revick off the throne so badly, but there was no way they could do it. Not with that army. And who would take it if they did? Him? Not likely. Guardia was doomed no matter how you looked at it.
Crono lay on his bed, not quite asleep but definitely not awake.
"I'm so glad I don't have to get up. Mom should be up making breakfast soon." he thought drowsily.
Then reality hit home, waking him up fully.
"No... I guess she won't be."
He felt the tears trying to surface again. The house was so quiet. Empty. Lonely.
He sighs with exasperation, rolling over and trying to think of something, ANYTHING else.
Still dark out. What time is it?
He reaches over and grabs the makeshift clock Lucca had rigged up. At least 3 hours until dawn. Should try to sleep some more.
But instead of sleeping, his mind keeps working.
"Got to get him off that throne. Even if it's just to get him OUT of here so he stops hurting us. Who cares if the whole country falls to anarchy... that's where we are now practically. All those men. Impossible. No... Lucca would say "nothing is impossible for Science" if she were here. Marle would probably quote some law or something from some book about sticking to it. ...Marle... NO! No. Think about something else. Nothing is impossible. Everything can be done somehow. Hell, Marle called some dragon out of her pendant, talk about anything is possible. Oops, no. Think about something else. "I wonder if that WAS just some crazy illusion. Having a Dragon would definitely make things a little more possible. But he hasn't shown a scale since then. It's been months. But then... if it was some weird illusion, how did Marle disappear? Bah, You don't know, go back to sleep."
One of the cats jumps up onto his pillow and curls up beside him. He pets it absently. Another was sitting on the windowsill. He could see it's profile in the twilight.
"That's the fluffy one that adopted Marle. It keeps staring out the window like it's waiting for her to come home. Poor thing."
Another cat jumps up and paces around on his bed before finally sitting on his chest.
"Mrow?" it says, then goes back to pacing, looking uncomfortable. Lost perhaps.
"Hi Boots. Old codger you." Crono says, petting the unhappy cat. Boots finally curls up in a miserable ball beside him.
"And that was Mom's favorite cat. One of the few old ones remaining from before we left. He definitely knows she's gone."
Crono ponders for a minute, petting Boots and looking at the silhouette of the fluffy kitten in the window.
"I wonder. Mom's cat is miserable and unhappy, looking lost and lonely all the time. But Marle's cat is... hopeful? People say cats have uncanny powers that we could never understand. Maybe that means that dragon DID save Marle? Or is it just because Boots is an old timer who knows things better and the fuzz ball is too young to understand. Well... I guess nothing is impossible right? Wish Draco or whatever it's name was would hurry up though. Hopeful... Hope. That's a good name for her. Fluffy little Hope."
Finally, the purring of the cat on his pillow lulled him back to sleep.
Crono wakes with a start, scaring Boots off the bed.
"Get up! They're calling a villager meeting in the square. Don't miss this!" Lucca yells from downstairs.
Crono blinks at the sunlight filtering in through the window, then at the clock.
"This early?" he calls back.
"Yeah! Grab an apple or something and lets go!"
Crono grumbles to himself as he rolls out of bed and gets dressed.
"What's up?" Crono says, yawning as he comes down the stairs.
"The town is getting ticked. They're going to talk about possible plans. I think we have a revolt starting here."
Crono scratches his head.
"Yeah... but... we'll be squashed by that army." he says. "Trust me I've had LOTS of time to think about all this."
"I tried to tell them that too but they're so determined that they just said 'better to be squashed and dead than to live like this'. I guess I kind of see their point though. Almost everyone in town has lost a family member to him or his dungeon. And we don't have anything left to give. We may as well just go listen, and tell them how ridiculous it all is if nothing else."
Not too long later, Lucca and Crono stood on the outskirts of a fairly large crowd in the square. Several of the people were glancing around, watching for one of Revick's messengers. An excited, yet nervous buzz filled the air.
Soon, a burly man that Crono recognized as the local blacksmith stood up in front of everyone and called their attention.
"Citizens. We need to do something." he says. "That upstart king is killing us. Our supplies are running thinner every day and there's nothing we can do to get more. Guardia used to run almost entirely on inter-trading, all the cities supporting each other. Now we can't do that. Revick must have stopped trading so he could kill us faster. Truce's gardens and supplies can't support all of us. We use them up before we can replace them. I myself have done some runs to Porre to see about some extra supplies, but they are in the same predicament as us, not enough for themselves let alone to spare."
There were some rumbles of agreement from the crowd.
"That dragon was nothing but an illusion, we can't depend on it to swoop down and save us at the last moment! We have to act now! We need to kick him off that throne and put someone else up. The queen is dead, the king is missing and we must presume he is dead. There are no heirs. Who should be our ruler to lead us through this and beyond?"
The crowd murmurs among itself as they discuss possibilities, then fingers start pointing, hands start raising and names started being shouted out, causing pandemonium.
"Ok! Quiet down everyone! We'll have to hold a proper vote for this I guess."
He turns to one of the people next to him and they start planning things out.
Crono just looks at Lucca and shakes his head. Lucca sighs dramatically.
He does a quick scan of the crowd. Who came and who didn't? Who looks to be the favorite for "king"? Are any messengers lurking around noting this?
Then he does a double take.
The girl! The same girl!
She was standing way in the back, one foot on top of an empty crate, listening. Now he could see her clearly. She was wearing some sort of tanned leather outfit, possibly crude armor, and boots which came up to her knees. On her right hand was some sort of glove, which he assumed must be for archery since it was useless for anything else. She also had a brace of some sort strapped to her inner left arm. She had a longbow slung over one shoulder and a narrow quiver with some arrows in it strapped to her left thigh, so they must be for archery. She had a staff tied to her back, but in a way that it could be pulled out quickly. On her back was also a pack of sorts, that would hold things but still not get in the way of movement, and on her belt and quiver there were pouches sewn on. Definitely young. He figured his first age impression was right and she was early teens. In fact, if she were one of the kids he had been helping to take care of, she probably would have been running around right now. But she carried herself like a grown woman.
He turns to Lucca.
"Lucca... have you ever seen her before?" he says, pointing.
"Um? Who?" she asks, looking confused.
Crono looks back. She was gone again!
He mutters a curse.
"How does she DO that?" he says.
"Uhh... you ok Crono?"
"I honestly don't know. I would swear that wasn't a hallucination... but she just vanishes! Bah!"
"Umm... you know... you've been under a lot of stress..."
"Yeah yeah. I'm fine... I hope..."
At this point, the blacksmiths apprentice came by and handed each of them a slip of paper and a pencil. He moves on swiftly, handing them out along the way.
Crono frowns at his and sticks it in his pocket. Lucca does the same.
"What's the sense of voting anyway. Who would I pick? If they do this they're just gonna get slaughtered. And then we'll ALL get tossed into the dungeon, whether we participated or not."
After a few moments the votes are collected. Crono and Lucca manage to evade the apprentice, who is so flustered trying to keep everything straight that be passes over them.
Soon, the votes are tallied.
The blacksmith looks very pleased with himself.
"Well. It seems you all have chosen ME to be your ruler! Good choice if I don't say so myself... Now. Who has some ideas for storming the castle?"
Ideas were shouted out, each more ludicrous than the last. Crono heard a few wise voices saying that they were fools to even consider it and to plan things out a little more, but they went unheeded.
"Bah. Come on Lucca. Maybe if we're good we can convince Revick we had no part of this and he'll leave us alone. Maybe save a few lives."
They left the square and headed down toward Lucca's place, then thought better of it, not wanting to have to explain everything to her parents just yet, and started walking west along the edge of the forest.
Lucca pulls out her remote and flicks her sight scope down.
"They're still gathered there. Looks like he's giving them a pep talk."
"Lets see here." she says. "Forest forest and more forest. Oop there's the out skirting walls of the castle. Mwahahaha I can see everything!"
She fiddles in silence for a few more moments.
"Ugh. He's let that garden in the courtyard go totally wild. Actually it looks like he neglected all of the grounds. Probably fired the staff that took care of it to conserve money. I think Marle told me once that they all volunteered to do it for her because she didn't want to waste funding on herself, but they no doubt wouldn't have volunteered for Revick. She used all the local facilities too even though it would have been more convenient to just make her own at the castle. I know she was constantly at the library in town, although where she got time to read I don't know. The biggest problem was fending off the villagers that wanted to talk to her."
Crono walks on in silence.
"Ooo... ok down a little lower... and zoom in... HAH! I can see inside! Rats the room is empty. Where's the next window... Ooo I should add an audio input!"
Crono chuckles. "Watch you don't catch Revick jumping out of the shower. I can see him putting your head on a stake now."
Lucca shudders. "I'd go blind! Ok now you got me scared. I'm moving this thing out of there."
She fiddles with the remote some more.
Crono stops suddenly, holding his arm out to stop Lucca, since she wasn't paying attention.
"What?" Lucca says, looking at him. Then she looks where he's looking.
The girl was standing there at the edge of the forest, arms folded, watching them.
"You see her too right?" Crono asks.
"Ok good." Crono says, relieved. "Seen her before? That's the girl I meant."
Lucca shakes her head.
The girl holds her chin in her hand and appears to consider them for a minute. Then she turns and melts back into the underbrush.
"Damn! Did you see that! What is she a ghost or what??"
"No... I think she is just extremely good at moving through the foliage. She's very tan, as if she spends all her time outdoors. Possibly she LIVES in that forest. All her equipment, including her clothing, could be made from materials found there. But why is she so interested in you? Or maybe since you keep stumbling on her she thinks YOU are following HER."
Crono sighs in frustration.
"Well I wish she would at least come ASK me or something."
"Maybe she can't speak. If she lives alone in the forest it's possible her human contact is very minimal to none."
"I tried to follow her before and she didn't leave a trace. You SURE she isn't a ghost?"
"Experienced trackers can follow something as small as a leaf bent wrong, and as such know how NOT to bend that leaf while passing it. But maybe she is. Anything is possible."
"Bah. Come on lets go back. My apple wore off and it's lunch time anyway."
"Food food food that's all you can think about." Lucca says, laughing.
"I WISH that was all I could think about." Crono replies, sighing.
The big revolt never came about. The blacksmith strutted around looking important, but the people ended up ignoring him when he never came up with any good ideas or made any progress.
Crono continued to keep himself busy, mostly helping farmers wives who's husbands had been thrown into the dungeon and who had a whole farm and children to look after.
Lucca tried to keep him company as much as possible, which he was thankful for... but he was starting to find he wanted to be alone more often. The quietness of the house didn't sting as much as before, although he still found himself crying frequently. The cats seemed to sense his moods and wouldn't leave him alone. Their company cheered him up and filled the emptiness of the house.
But he still found something to remind him at every turn. Marle's braille book, which he returned to the library. His moms embroidery, unfinished. The housecoat he had bought for Marle, tossed carelessly on her bed, waiting for her to come put it back on. The unfinished business of two lives interrupted prematurely. It wasn't that he wanted to forget... he just didn't want to remember right now.
It hurt too much.
Crono sat on his front porch, absently petting a cat.
It was Sunday, so there weren't as many chores to be done. No one had anything for him to do. What to do now.
Sighing, he sets the cat aside and starts walking. Nowhere particular, just walking.
Soon he found himself along the edge of the forest again, following the trade path that led to Zenan bridge.
He decides to turn off the path and cut through the forest.
Awhile later, Crono curses as yet another branch smacks him in the face.
"Nope that girl was DEFINITELY a ghost. No way can anyone move silently through this." he thinks.
Finally he stumbles into a small clearing of sorts, brushing twigs out of his hair. The sound of running water comes from nearby.
He moves forward to press through the next bush, when he sees the girl.
She is kneeling by the spring, drinking, and she doesn't appear to have noticed him.
Crono holds his breath and crouches behind the bush, so he can just see her through the leaves.
She stands smoothly and dries her hands on her tunic, looking around carefully.
Then she sets off silently through the bush.
Crono somehow manages to get through the bush quickly and quietly and sets out in pursuit.
He follows her for a long time, managing to keep her just in sight and yet not be seen. He notices that she can somehow pick out the invisible trails of the forest, probably made by passing animals. Lucca must have been right about her being a tracker of sorts.
Then suddenly, he can't see her anymore.
He moves forward, trying to see if she followed a different path.
Suddenly, an arrow lodges in a tree, inches from taking off his nose!
He hears a young female voice come out of nowhere.
"I would suggest you stop following me now. This has been amusing, I didn't think you would stay with me this long. But I must go and you aren't allowed to come. Good day."
"Wait! Can't you at least tell me who you are and why you keep watching me???" he yells back.
Silence answers him.
He curses and then looks at the arrow.
It was lodged too deeply for him to pull it out without damaging it, but it appeared to be hand-fletched. Real feather flights were used on it instead of the synthetic pre-formed stuff the fletchers in town sold.
Crono sighs and then looks around him, suddenly realizing he doesn't have a clue where he is.
Hearing the sound of water, he heads toward it.
Minutes later, he stumbles out of the brush into a clearing with a spring. The same spring!
"Damn her. She knew I was there the whole time. But then again, considering how much noise I made... Bah. She led me in a circle."
Thankful that he at least knew how to get home now, he starts blazing his way through the brush again, heading home.
*some time passes*
Crono lay in the grass of a field near Lucca's house. Lucca was standing nearby fiddling with her remote again.
"And see... I improved the speed and maneuvering ability of it... without raising the fuel consumption!"
Crono watches as the machine does a loop-de-loop in the air above him.
"Hey! Do that over there. If it's gonna suddenly die and crash I don't wanna be under it!"
"It won't die! This isn't the first time I've used it you know."
"First time after 'fixing' it."
"I practically copied the hover engine from the epoch anyway. Some of that technology is really great. Too bad we had to dismantle the Epoch though."
"Just think what Revick would do with THAT. Actually I don't WANT to think what he would do with it..."
"Right. Too dangerous. It's so sad to have to go backwards in science just because of dishonest people." she sighs.
"WE didn't go backwards. That technology is like over 1000 years from now. 1500 even. You're cheating you know!"
"Nuh uh! All scientific discoveries are made by using other peoples research. I just kinda skipped ahead. Mwahaha!"
She flicks her sight scope down and turns a knob.
"I also improved the seeing tube. I gave it an independent motor so it can move freely. I used to have to move the whole machine to change view. Now I can see anywhere with this thing! Ha HA!"
She turns the knob some more, viewing the landscape.
"Woah! Crono! I think I see your forest girl!"
"What?? Where?? Can I use that thing too?"
"Um. Actually... she's almost here."
Lucca flicks the sight scope back up and peers off to the north west. Crono looks too.
Sure enough, the forest girl was walking through the field toward them.
Crono stands up and brushes the dirt and grass off. Lucca puts her remote away, but leaves the machine hovering overhead.
The girl walks up to them.
They stare at each other.
"You are Crono, correct?" she says, finally.
Suddenly suspicious, Crono thinks for a moment.
"Who wants to know. And why have you been spying on me?"
"I was watching you to be sure you were Crono. You were the one I was told to find. The one I was told I could trust. Lucca as well. You, I presume." she says, glancing at Lucca.
"Ok. Yes we are. Who sent you?"
"You are loyal to Queen and King Guardia?"
Crono thinks again.
"If we say yes, she could be helping us... or she could be a spy of Revick's who is gonna kill us or something. Would be just like him to single us out because he knew we were friends of Marle and then hang us publicly or something."
"That depends. Are you?" he answers, finally.
The girl grinned!
"You are cautious. That's always smart." she says.
She reaches into a pocket sewn into her quiver and pulls out a ring. A piece of paper was rolled up and inserted through the ring, using it as a sort of seal. It bore the crest of Guardia.
"The King Benjamin asked me to find you and give you this. I'm certain you are the correct ones now. I am to lead you back to him, assuming you choose to help. If you choose to help Revick for whatever insane reason... then I'll just have to kill you or something."
She grinned again.
Crono took the ring and read the note, Lucca peered over his shoulder.
"Crono and Lucca
I pray Jaina finds you before Revick does something nasty... or the villagers something stupid. Almost directly after you left the day Revick broke the line, I found out that there WAS no line anymore. It was too late to call you back but I hope both of you are ok. It finally got through my thick skull what Nadia had been saying, and I decided to take the 'cowardly' route and run for my life. Like she said, what could I do if I was dead? So I snuck out and started contacting all the other towns of Guardia, stopping the trade. I know that made it very hard for Truce, and I'm sorry, but Revick would have just sucked ALL the towns dry if I hadn't and Truce would be no better off than it is now. I tried to 'starve' him out, but he won't leave! All the other towns know I'm still alive but they have been sworn to secrecy so that Revick didn't get wind of it. They only pretend to obey Revick's orders. Unfortunately, Truce is too close under Revick's eye so I couldn't do the same there. Try to spread the word as quietly as possible to keep the villagers from trying to storm the castle or something incredibly dumb, and then come with Jaina to here. We'll plan it out from there.
STILL the King no matter what anyone says, Benjamin Guardia."
Crono looks up at the girl.
"Ok then... We need to tell someone to spread the word, quietly. They're on the verge of committing suicide with an attack already."
"That would be very unwise." Jaina says.
"No kidding." says Lucca.
"I would suggest not telling the blacksmith. He seems very proud and would likely end up announcing to Revick that we are mounting forces somewhere to dethrone him, while attempting to take all credit for himself." Jaina says.
Crono nods. "Yeah he probably would. Where would be the best place to start though? I think we should tell some of those farmer women. They know me and could easily pass the word while in the market or to people who come to help them."
Lucca nods. "Good plan. I'll go tell the tavern owner and some of the shopkeepers." she says.
"I will meet you at the spring in two hours?" Jaina asks. "Crono knows where it is." she says, with a twinkle in her eye. "I will have no trouble hearing him coming. A stampede of elephants couldn't make more noise."
Crono grumbles at her.
Two hours later, Crono and Lucca stumble into the clearing with the spring.
"Oh good... I went the right way." he says, panting. They had cut the time a little too closely and had to run through the bush, causing many a fall tripping over roots.
"As I said," comes a voice from nowhere, "a herd of elephants."
"Hey! We were in a hurry." Crono retorts.
Jaina materializes out of the brush.
"And how do you DO that?" he says.
Jaina looks confused. "What?"
"Just... APPEAR.. And disappear!"
Jaina smirks. "Practice. I'm going to have to train you to do it too if we don't want you giving us away with your elephant impression."
Crono mutters something under his breath.
"You took care of your cats right?" Jaina asks.
"They won't need for anything if you are gone?"
"No... I left a bunch of food out and they can drink from the rain barrel or catch mice. I also told Lucca's parents that I would be gone so they are going to check on them from time to time."
Jaina nods. "That's good. I hate for an animal to be in need. Come on, this way."
She sets off at a trot through the bush. Crono and Lucca struggle to keep up.
A few hours later, Crono and Lucca are exhausted. Jaina is still going at the same ground-eating trot as before. The ground is steadily getting steeper as well. Jaina is out of sight half the time, but she frequently stops and waits for them to catch up, smirking at them before setting off again.
Suddenly, Crono is faced with a rock wall. He stops suddenly, making Lucca collide with him from behind.
"Aw man...." he says.
"AW no!" Lucca says.
"Well?" Jaina's voice says from above them. "Hurry up and climb. I don't wish to spend the night out in the forest tonight. I think it will rain."
"Can we take a rest at the top?" Crono asks.
An exasperated sigh can be heard.
"Ok then. A short one."
Crono starts climbing. He gets about halfway up and then starts sliding back down, knocking Lucca off the wall.
"Oof!" she says, landing hard on the ground below.
Chuckling can be heard from above.
"An incompetent herd of elephants no less. You need training. Here."
The tip of Jaina's staff appears before Crono, and he grabs it, using it to pull himself up. Lucca does the same moments later. Both of them collapse on the ground. Jaina clucks her tongue and chuckles, then goes back to surveying the landscape.
After he's caught his breath, Crono looks around too.
It was a breathtaking view. They were at the foot of one of the mountains that stood behind Guardia. A sea of green trees spread out before them, flowing all the way back to Truce. In the distance, Guardia Castle could be seen, it's windows lighting in the insetting dusk. Puffs of smoke on the horizon marked the village center of Truce. Crono couldn't believe how far they had come. No wonder he was tired.
"You know, I'm not sure... But I think we were being followed." he says to Jaina.
"Not to be concerned. It is just Riki. He protects me, but he is shy of men."
"As long as you're sure it's 'Riki' or whoever and not some of Revick's men."
"Positive. I'll show you. Riki! Come out! It is ok."
Hesitantly, a large wolf slinks from the bush and bounds up the loose rocks from a rock slide on the north side of the rise, dislodging several of them. He gains the top of the rise and slinks to Jaina, describing a wide arc around Crono.
"He is afraid of men, but not women. He is a good friend." Jaina says, petting him.
Riki lies down beside her and watches Crono carefully, head on his paws.
"So, where to next?" he asks.
Jaina points to the mountain they were sitting on. A winding path he hadn't noticed before leads straight up.
"If we make good time we will be there before dawn. However with you two, we may have to camp after all. I thought you were in good shape. I suppose I was mistaken." Jaina says, chuckling. "No matter. On the mountain there are many caves which will provide good shelter if it rains."
Lucca pulls out her remote and fiddles with it.
"Just wait a sec ok? My machine shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to get here, flying straight across. Maybe 20... Ok maybe half an hour... But I left it hovering and if it's gonna rain tonight I want it with me under shelter. It will need more fuel soon too."
"Camping is inevitable now." she says, sitting down. "But alright. Your machine is too useful to let it ruin."
"Where are we going?" Crono asks.
"I will have to let Ben tell you that." Jaina answers. "I am not allowed. I am only the guide. But I can tell you that it is on this mountain. Not too far."
Crono thought she had stumbled over the name "Ben" but perhaps she was going to call him "king" or something.
"Do they all speak English there? You seem to be very stiff with it."
Jaina shakes her head.
"Not usually. I'm very fluent with English. Just out of practice. I have a bad habit of "over-enunciating" I think it was. Not casually speaking it. So yes I do sound stiff. It will loosen as I use it more probably. I learned both languages at the same time, but I use the other more often. There are only a few who speak English there, and Ben, who only speaks it."
"What's the other language."
Jaina looks slightly perplexed.
"It has no name really. A native dialect perhaps."
"So, you're an amazon of sorts?"
"Amazon..." she says to herself, thinking. "Oh, a female warrior?"
"Well... I suppose in a way. I am female and I can fight. I am strong... I guess I am. They are. But they don't call themselves Amazons. Actually they don't have a name either. They just 'are'."
"Ahhh there you are..." Lucca says, as the machine floats closer. "I should be able to keep it with us. It has enough fuel for awhile yet."
Jaina nods and stands.
When Crono stands too, Riki jumps to his feet and crouches, ready to jump away from, or onto, Crono.
Jaina speaks softly to him in another language and the wolf relaxes somewhat, but doesn't stop eyeing Crono warily.
They set out up the trail, Lucca constantly keeping tabs on her machine.
Well after dark, Jaina led them into a large cave.
There was a large fire pit preconstructed in the middle of the floor, close enough to the entrance to allow the smoke to escape, but not close enough to be seen from outside, unless you were at the cave entrance. There were also several straw beds with makeshift blankets strewn about.
Crono collapses on one immediately, uncaring if anything crawly had taken up residence in the straw.
Lucca carefully guided the machine in through the cave entrance, checked the fuel level and topped it up with a vial from her tool belt, and then followed suit.
It didn't take long for either of them to fall asleep.
Sometime later, Crono woke up.
He blinked at the darkness, confused for a moment before he remembered where he was.
There was dampness in the air. It HAD rained. He shivers.
He peers around the cave in the darkness.
Although it had rained, the clouds had almost cleared up. He could see stars through gaps in them, and the full moon was illuminating things brightly, although it occasionally dimmed as a cloud passed over it.
Jaina was crouching at the cave entrance with Riki. Vapor clouds rose from her mouth in the chill air as she breathed and spoke to Riki.
No... she was singing. Softly... but she was singing to the wolf. He couldn't make out the words, but he was almost positive they were English too.
Finally deciding he would have lots of time to think about it while walking tomorrow, and that sleep is more important, he curls up into a ball for warmth and drifts back to sleep.
Jaina woke them both not long after dawn.
"Come on. Get up! You can sleep when we get there I promise. Real beds too." she grins.
She hands them both some trail food of dried meat mixed with nuts and dried berries and a small container of water.
"Can eat as we go. Come on. It's not too far."
"Yeah but it's all uphill." Lucca grumbles.
Jaina had already started up the trail though. She was standing waiting for them a little ways up.
"Come on! You still half asleep?" she yells back.
Grumbling and muttering around bites of the trail food, Crono and Lucca start hiking up the trail.
"Well at THAT pace it will take us until nightfall to get there... but ok." says Jaina as they reach her. She falls into step beside them. Crono can see Riki trotting up the trail a ways ahead of them, stopping every so often to test the wind.
They trudge along in silence for awhile, Lucca making sure her machine is still working properly and following them.
Soon they come to a plateau of sorts where the trail switchbacks. Crono and Lucca manage to beg a rest off of Jaina, and flop on the ground.
Once Crono has his breath back, he strikes up conversation again.
"What were you singing to Riki last night?" he asks.
Jaina looks surprised, then embarassed.
"I wasn't aware you were awake. I'm sorry if I woke you."
"No no you didn't wake me. I think the cold woke me. I could barely hear you."
"It was an old lullaby my mother used to sing to me. I don't know the name of it though."
"How does it go?" Crono asks, grinning.
Jaina just blushes and shakes her head.
"I sing it to Riki. It calms him down when he is nervous. But never when someone might hear me!"
Crono just chuckles.
"You can see so FAR from here! I can see so far from here!" Lucca says, peering through her sight scope again. "I swear I could see Choras!"
"Highly unlikely Lucca." says Crono.
"Ok so maybe Medina?"
"Ok lets go!" Jaina says, standing and heading up the trail again. Crono and Lucca groan and struggle after her.
Despite what Jaina had predicted, there was still lots of daylight when the trail came to an end. At a solid rock wall.
Crono and Lucca peered up at the sheer cliff in confusion, but Jaina simply walked up and rapped on it, saying something in another language.
After a few moments, a door swung inward from the rock! It had been cut directly from the rock face and fit so perfectly it was impossible to see unless you knew it was there.
Jaina ushered them through, including Lucca's machine.
On the other side of the rock door was a room apparently carved out of the stone, lit with torches fastened to either side of the doors. A tall, stern-faced woman was standing there. Another Amazon like Jaina, but much older.
She says something to Jaina in the other language.
Jaina answers back, and the older woman sighs resignedly.
Crono realizes with a start that the door behind them had closed and there were two more Amazon women standing in front of it, holding spears. They must have opened it for them too. Their faces were unreadable.
The older woman inhales deeply then exhales.
"I am Shari. You must... forgive. My English... is difficult. I am... now... learn?.. It."
She shrugs and smiles sheepishly, then says something to Jaina again, and Jaina nods to her, making her smile broadly.
"I have been teaching her, along with the few others here who can speak, but I am the most fluent, besides Ben. This is Shari, the leader of this community."
Shari looks slightly perplexed when she hears her name. Jaina explains what she said in the other language and Shari nods.
"Must learn English more. ... Not Jaina speak about me with me no... understanding." Shari says, grumbling at Jaina.
"She has the basics down but she has trouble with finding the correct words. She's actually learning very quickly."
Shari looks serious again. She says something to Jaina, who nods.
"Shari says that before she can let you through, you must swear never to let anyone else know about this place. They have survived here for thousands of years and kept their original cultures because no one knew about them. They want to keep it that way."
Crono and Lucca nod.
Shari pulls a dagger from her belt and hands it to Crono.
"Ummm..." he says.
"It's nothing to worry about, just a symbol of your trust. Make a small X with the blade on the BACK of your left wrist. Not the front... we don't want you bleeding to death here."
Crono inhales deeply and does as he was told, then wipes it and hands the dagger to Lucca, who does the same, passing the dagger back to Shari.
Shari extends her left hand to Crono.
"It's like a backwards handshake." explains Jaina.
Crono takes her left hand with his, and she lifts it up so that a drop of blood from the scratch runs down his arm. She then does the same for Lucca.
"Ok you can wipe that off now." Jaina says.
Shari grins at them.
"One more... need." Shari says, stumbling over the words. "You help me learn English. Yes?" She grins again.
Crono laughs and nods.
Shari turns and walks through a second door carved in the stone, and Jaina gestures for them to follow.
On the other side, Crono and Lucca stop and stare.
It was breathtaking. They were in a huge valley. Off in the distance, they could see the wall of the mountain rising up again, but the land in between was mostly flat and grassy. A brook flowed past them and it's source appeared to be a small lake off to the east, nestled against the rock wall. Directly before them was a small village made of thatch huts and a few log buildings. Off to the side were some archery targets and supplies, as well as some staves strapped to a makeshift rack. Woman were teaching young girls how to fire at the targets, but most of the people moving around in the village stop and look at the newcomers. The ground in the village was mostly packed down dirt, but just beyond the edge, rich pastureland began and continued on as far as the eye could see.
Shari nods to Jaina, who is petting Riki, then heads off toward one of the log buildings.
"She is going to get Ben now." Jaina explains. "But feel free to look around."
Lucca flicks her sight scope down and sends her machine up.
"Wow! I think this is an extinct volcano crater. Gee I HOPE it's extinct anyway. The walls circle the whole area and the grass is really lush... The volcanic ash is a great fertilizer. There's a lake over there... And I think there are caves all along the walls."
"Lots of caves. Many of them are used as storage. One big one on the far wall is a burial tomb."
"Some trees over there... it's very sparse though... most of the area is open." Lucca continues.
"Those trees are taken care of. They are used to make the staves and bow equipment, so their seeds are carefully harvested and replanted to keep the grove alive." Jaina says.
"Here comes Ben." Crono says.
Sure enough, Ben was walking toward them with Shari, a big smile on his face.
"Oh good! You two are ok." he says as he reaches them, then he becomes serious.
"Did Revick kill Nadia? Something happened." he says.
"Actually... we don't know." Crono says. "He caught her that first day and blinded her with hot irons, then she stayed with me for a few years, and then Revick shot her with a crossbow in the square. She was dead for sure, but then this huge red dragon who called himself Draco popped out of her pendant and gave a speech on how he would save Guardia and then... poofed... away and took her with him. So... she's either alive with the dragon somewhere or the dragon buried her and is gonna come back for revenge. Either way I would say Revick is in trouble."
Jaina translates the more difficult words for Shari.
"Draco you said? That's impossible. Well no I guess it's not impossible... I just thought that was a legend. A story made up for kids when they inherited the pendant. But then I'm not a Guardia, I just married one. Who knows. You saw what you saw..."
"Wish he would hurry up though." Crono says.
"Well... anyway we need to plan as if that never happened. Can't count on something if we don't know for sure it can be counted on. Shari has agreed to help us in any way she can, but I don't want to kill off the whole tribe just getting rid of that army. Lets get some ideas going. How can we lessen his ranks?"
Crono and Lucca ponder.
"Takes too long. He'll put out a patrol to find us before we can get too many."
"Some kind of a catapult! Squash em!"
"That's a good idea... but we need a lot of wood. We can't take the trees here and Revick would notice us chopping up Guardia forest. But that WOULD give us an advantage because it can fire over walls. They would have to come to us."
"And defend it with arrows. They won't get close." Jaina says.
"Until we take out at least half of that army there aren't enough arrows in that entire grove of wood to take out all his men before they get to us, I'm afraid." Ben says.
"Can you... agh!" Shari starts to say, then, unable to find the words, she pantomimes throwing something and then coughing and choking. "Is... Poison!" she says finally, looking pleased with herself.
"A poison smoke bomb!" Lucca says. "If I had the right chemicals..."
"As long as the wind is blowing right. We don't want any of it blowing into Truce or straight back at us." Ben says.
"But that's a good point." Crono says. "He's got himself barricaded in that castle. There's no water supply and his food won't last forever. If we could just find a way to KEEP him in there... but once again... what's going to stop him from just sending his massive army out and squashing us?"
"Yes that army HAS to go. Back to square one." he says, grinning.
"Could poison the food and water going in... that might take out some soldiers..." Lucca says.
"Yeah not to mention our staff. I don't want to put any innocents at risk here, more than necessary. But if it becomes necessary... we might have to do that." Ben says, sighing.
After Jaina finishes translating, Shari looks down at Riki.
"The wolf does take down giant food with little... wolves. Wolf attacks, again and over, never stay long to get hit. Run in... bite... run out. Does until food is.. Sleepy?... tired!... and when food falls, wolf eats." she says.
Jaina smiles and nods.
"She's right. A wolf pack can take down a big moose which could crush them all in one blow. Because the wolf is smaller, it is faster. The moose can't keep its defense on them because they keep moving faster than it can adjust. They keep worrying at it until it is tired enough that they can hamstring it, and then when it is hobbled, they can kill it with little or no injury to themselves. We just need to wear him down." Jaina says.
"We train you." Shari says, pointing at Crono and Lucca. "Use our bow and our staff. Move quiet."
Ben nods again. "Yes, learn to use their weapons and techniques as well. It will take awhile yet to plan this out."
Shari gestures for them to follow her to the practice area. The women and girls who were standing there watching made room for them and handed Shari a bow and staff.
"Sword." she says, pointing at the scabbard at Crono's hip. "Pah! Staff kill sword! Sword sharper than staff too."
"I think she means that although the sword will do more damage ultimately, the staff can beat anyone using a sword easily, when handled properly." Jaina says.
Crono chuckles. "Yeah I know. Marle knocked me out with one." he says, grumbling.
"Marle yes. Nadia good with staff. Good as Shari." she says, tapping herself.
"This is where she came wasn't it. She kept disappearing for weeks but she said she couldn't tell me where she went."
"Queen Nadia discovered this tribe a long time ago, when she was a little girl, and swore to them that she wouldn't reveal their existence as long as they promised to be allies with Guardia. Her and Shari were good friends ever since." she explains. "Shari taught her the staff and how to use archery properly. After that, Nadia learned the crossbow. She tried to teach Shari but she didn't want it."
"Fah! Crossbow no good! Heavy! Slow! Powerful yes. Longbow more deadly." Shari says, patting her bow.
Shari looks quizzically at Lucca.
"What?" she asks, pointing to the holster on Lucca's belt.
Lucca pulls out the Wondershot.
"I call it a gun. It's fast and powerful." she says.
Shari scratches her head.
"I'll show you..." Lucca says, taking aim at a target.
With a loud *CRACK* the gun fires and hits the target.
Half the village jumps, stops what they are doing and starts chattering excitedly, looking over at Lucca.
Shari covers her ears.
"No! Too loud! Hurt ears! Need quiet and sneak!"
"Shes right!" Jaina says, rubbing her ear. "Revick will know we're there in no time with that thing!"
"Bow quiet! Not know you there till dead!" Shari says. "No no no... put away!" she says, pointing at the Wondershot.
Once Lucca holsters it, Shari hands her the bow.
"Hold, like this."
Shari positions Lucca so that she is holding the bow correctly.
Jaina hands Lucca an arrow, and Shari shows her how to nock it.
"Hold like this. Pull back... and go."
Lucca looses the arrow, but before she can see if she hit the target, she almost drops the bow in pain.
"String slap hurts doesn't it! That's why I wear a brace. The string can scrape down your forearm very easily and it hurts for weeks!"
She pats the brace strapped to her inner left arm.
"Ow! That HURTS!"
"You hit target! You do good with learn. Now you." she says, taking the bow and offering it to Crono.
Crono take it and looks uncertainly at Lucca nursing her arm.
"Um... lemme borrow that brace Jaina."
Jaina chuckles and unstraps it.
Once the brace was in place, Crono let Shari position him correctly.
"Pull back... and go."
Crono tries to aim carefully, and looses the arrow. It hits the target fairly close to the center.
"Ah! Good! You do this?"
"Well... not usually. Marle taught me a few basics so I could use her bow to hunt for food when the famine was threatening."
Shari looks uncertainly at Jaina, who translates the harder words, then she nods.
"Your sword. Feh! Sword get shot before sword know bow is there! If Sword know bow is there, sword still get shot. Sword cannot stop arrow. Sword can kill bow, but sword must REACH bow first. You two, practice. Be good. Now is staff."
Shari places the bow on the rack, then holds the staff in front of her.
She goes through several demonstrations of moves, then has Crono and Lucca repeat them.
Shari nods as they get closer to her original movements.
"You practice, be good. Now show this."
She takes the staff from Crono and signals Jaina to get her staff out.
"Jaina good. Shari better." she says, winking.
By this time a small crowd had formed around the practice area to watch. As soon as Jaina and Shari had taken positions, one of the women trotted out to the center. After checking to make sure both of them were ready, the woman yells something in the other language and gets out of the way.
Shari and Jaina begin to circle each other.
Shari slowly edges her way inward toward Jaina, trying to make it seem imperceptible with the circling.
As soon as she is close enough, Shari launches an attack.
But Jaina had seen her moving in, and blocks it easily.
Jaina quickly launches a counter attack with the other end of her staff, but Shari leaps away and it doesn't connect.
Shari holds up her hand.
"See. I attack, Jaina defend. But Jaina attack when I off balance, making defend into attack. Good." she says, smiling at Jaina. "I gave... eh... easier... Eh.. Jaina?"
"Advantage?" Jaina says.
"Yes. I gave advantage by attack first. Staff is defend, not much attack. Can use attack but easier defend. Your sword." she says, pointing to Crono's scabbard again. "Attack, not much defend. Staff kill sword when sword not defend against staff."
Shari nods to Jaina and goes back into defense stance.
They begin to circle again.
This time Jaina lunges in, trying to sweep Shari's feet out from under her.
Shari jumps over the staff and brings her staff down on top of Jaina, but does it so that it only touches her, not hits her.
"Ah! See! Jaina attack first. My advantage. More defend. Jaina is sleep now." she says, grinning.
Jaina stands up and dusts herself off.
"She means unconscious." she explains. "That would have knocked me out if she had swung it."
"Unconscious." she says, trying out the word. "Knock out." she grins.
Then she nods to Jaina again and they face off.
"No... Here." Shari says, pointing to the ground directly in front of her.
She then points to the woman who started them before and says something. The woman nods.
They face off, only a few feet from each other, and wait.
The woman yells something and they both start swinging.
Every swing is blocked by the others staff. Soon they are swinging them so fast that you can only see a blur where the staff should be, until it hits the other staff and stops.
Then Jaina jumps backwards and shifts her grip on the staff, swinging it at Shari's legs.
It connects! Shari goes down, but as she does she shifts her grip and swings it up at Jaina knocking one hand off her staff as it hits her arm.
Jaina winces and brings the staff down on Shari, but Shari was already gone, rolling away. She leaps back into a standing position, using the staff as leverage, and then THROWS the staff at Jaina like a spear!
Jaina was caught off guard. The staff hit her right in the stomach, knocking her over backwards with the wind knocked out of her.
Shari walks up and puts one foot on her chest, grinning.
"Surprise. Good for attack. Jaina well?"
Jaina groans, but nods.
"Do what enemy not expect, and enemy not expect it" she says, grinning some more. "Mean.. Enemy not expect it, so enemy not stop it."
"She means, 'if you do the unexpected the enemy won't be ready for it, and won't be able to defend.'" Jaina says, from under Shari's foot. Shari nods.
"But that was danger. Shari now has no staff. Jaina do. If Shari miss, Jaina have BIG advantage. Is good. I let Jaina rest now. It get dark. We eat now." Shari says, taking her foot off Jaina and helping her stand up. Then she says something to the crowd in the other language.
The crowd around the practice area starts cheering and whooping, and several of them rush off to light the camp fires before it got too dark, while others come and clap Jaina on the back. Several of them approach Lucca and Crono cautiously and chatter at them in the other language. Jaina says something to them and they nod, and then simply grin and extend their hands to them in welcome.
Crono and Lucca are ushered to a large fire pit in the center of the village where most of the villagers were gathered. Something was roasting on a spit overtop of the fire. Fat was dripping off and sizzling as it hit the flames. Ben is sitting there talking to another tribe woman, and there are actually some men hovering around. None of them look as tough as the women though. Children run around, chasing each other and laughing.
Ben smiles when he sees the group approaching.
"So how did the lesson go?" he asks.
Lucca rubs some muscles which are already stiffening, and gingerly inspects the purple-green bruise forming on her left arm.
Crono just rubs his eyes.
"It would have been better if we hadn't spent last night in a cave and all day walking up the side of a mountain." he says.
"Well you can spend tonight in a real bed. Tomorrow she'll probably drag you out there all day though. I think she's resolved to make REAL warriors out of you."
"I think! I don't fight! I'm the brains here! Why do you think I invented a gun that does all the work for me?" she exclaims.
She plops down beside Ben with a whimper. Crono sits down too.
"This is Trini. She's sort of the "second in command" here." Ben says, indicating the woman he had been talking to. "She also speaks English almost as well as us. She took care of Jaina a lot so she learned it faster than Shari, and understands it better, though she still has some trouble speaking it. She's good for translation if Jaina isn't here."
"You can't speak a thousand languages like Marle can?" Lucca asks.
"No. Nadia was the 'diplomat' so she had to know all that stuff to communicate. I was the 'boring' one." he says, grinning. "But after this I'm going to learn. I like being prepared."
Trini leans over and pokes the meat roasting over the fire with a spear.
"Is almost done. You can eat soon."
"Umm... what is that?" Lucca asks.
"Is just wild boar. No worries." she says.
Trini then says something to Jaina in the other language. Jaina glances around and shrugs, then says something back.
Trini pulls out a small hide bag of something and hands it to Jaina, who beams at her and tucks it in one of her pouches before sitting down.
The small group chatted for a bit about everything from side dishes that would go best with wild boar meat to how to kill an angry wild boar with nothing but a staff. Soon, Shari called attention from near the fire pit.
As Shari talked to the village, Jaina translated for them.
"My friends and family, we have more visitors. They have sworn to hold our trust and they fight with honor. Welcome them now."
The crowd erupts with cheers and whooping. Several spears, staves and bows were raised in the air.
"As most of you know, their tribe and families are in trouble. An evil leader has taken over, and they must stop him. I have agreed that we will help them as much we can. They are friends of the Queen Guardia, Nadia, whom you all know well, and Nadia needs our help."
The crowd murmurs worriedly for a moment.
"They are up against a massive enemy, one they cannot possibly defeat on their own. But with our help and knowledge, they will triumph!"
More cheers and whooping.
"Planning will take place in the meeting hut. The king Guardia has already laid out maps there. If you have any ideas or knowledge which may help, come add it! Everything helps, whether we can use it or not."
Murmurs of agreement.
"Now, we will forget our troubles and feast to welcome our friends!"
Lots of cheering now. Shari steps down and the boar is taken off the spit and carved up. Ben, Crono and Lucca are given the first helpings. Soon everyone has been served and are all huddled around in groups, talking among themselves. Lots of them keep glancing toward Crono and Lucca.
After awhile, Riki slinks into the group, keeping a wary eye on Ben and Crono. Jaina chuckles.
"You would come back once the food was out. Greedy. Here."
She takes the hide bag out of her pouch and dumps its contents on the ground for the wolf. It consists of mostly odd and ends from the boar which were undesirable for use or eating. He settles down happily to eat.
"Ok wait, now I'm confused." Crono says. "If you save the trees for equipment... how did you get log cabins?"
"The building are very old. The bed inside too. They come from when the trees cover more area. Our ancestors build them then. Our ancestors chopped down most of the trees, which is why we watch carefully now and not take too much. Sometimes we go to the forest below and get wood, but is hard to bring it back, so not often. Only small ones. Small things." she explains.
"And you guys can support yourself completely up here?" Lucca asks.
"Water there. Fish in the water too. Wild animals, like this boar, graze in the field. We grow plants to eat. Lots of room for us to grow still. This is why we don't want to be disturbed."
"Hey did you want a shower or something before bed?" Jaina asks.
Crono and Lucca blink.
"A shower????" they both say in unison.
"I knew I would get that reaction. It's incredible. The lake is fed by a hot spring at one point, and inside one of the caves near it there is a small waterfall coming from it. The water is sometimes warm... sometimes so hot you can't stay in too long. But it feels great. MUCH better than trying to bathe in the lake. Especially since the lake isn't exactly private..."
"Well, maybe if I can keep my eyes open long enough." Crono says, yawning. "Hey, you know your English is less choppy already."
"I've been using it almost constantly today thanks to you. Starting to remember it all."
Shari has been sitting nearby, attempting to follow the conversation in English. Now she speaks up.
"He is very... seeing. What is word?" she asks.
"Um.. Observant?" Jaina ventures.
"Ah yes. Ob..servant. He sees much. Pay attention to everything, and everything not surprise you." Shari says.
"Well we also have a saying that goes 'curiosity killed the cat.' So if I don't stop sticking my nose into everything..."
"Cat is dead?"
Crono just chuckles as Jaina tries to explain what he meant.
"I think I'll take that shower in the morning. I'm too tired now." he says. Lucca nods agreement.
"You use that hut there. The meeting house is next to it." Trini says, pointing to a smaller wood hut next to the log cabin that Ben had come out of earlier.
Crono and Lucca look at each other.
"We have to share? He snores!"
"She babbles about science in her sleep!"
Trini scratches her head, looking bewildered.
"Well I'm staying in that hut too so if EITHER of you wake me up you'll be sorry you did."
After they stop laughing, Crono and Lucca enter the hut.
All along the back wall there were wooden beds. About 5 of them, placed far enough apart that you could get in and out, but that was it. They each had straw bedding covered with blankets, and a straw stuffed pillow. The one in the center had some items on it, including a purple cape that they knew belonged to Ben. There was a makeshift table of stone in one of the corners, but that was about it.
"Ok, I'll take the bed in this corner." Crono says, tossing his pack onto it.
"Then I'll take this one on the opposite side. You'll wake Ben up before you wake me up then."
They chuckle and crawl under the top blanket of their beds, and both of them were asleep almost before their head hit the pillow.
Crono awoke sometime in the morning. He could see the sunlight filtering in through the doorway and some of the cracks between the logs. The building had no proper windows, only a few widened gaps to let in light. He could see something rolled up in the rafters though which was probably some kind of wind shield to keep the room warmer during bad weather.
Ben's bed was empty, but he could still see Lucca's purple hair sticking out from under the blanket.
Crono tested out a few muscles and found them stiff. He had thought that yesterdays training session hadn't bothered him since he was fairly well in shape anyway, but apparently he had used a bunch of muscles he wasn't used to using. His legs were pretty stiff too from all the walking.
Not particularly wanting to get up and have Shari drag him off to the practice yard yet, Crono just lay there and thought about things.
"I wonder where these people came from. Nameless people speaking a nameless language. Their ancestors obviously had some knowledge because that log cabin meeting house had glass windows and everything, and they can't possibly make glass here. And with wolves for friends, sheesh. I wonder how Jaina got that wolf to trust her so much. Wish he liked me more, he's beautiful. And what I want to know is... where did Jaina learn English. She said 'I learned both at the same time' so she didn't just walk down to Truce and pick it up. But then again, Marle was visiting here. Maybe she taught her while she was very young. And Trini was taking care of her so she picked it up too... And now Shari is trying to learn it. That makes more sense. But they didn't say Trini was her mother, just that she was taking care of her. So where are her parents? I guess it can't be easy living up here though. Maybe they died of sickness. Or some wild boar they were hunting got out of control. And what is with the men? It's like a total role reversal. The women provide and protect and the men do all the chores. Strange."
Lucca started rolling over and muttering.
"Ugh. You awake Crono? I don't think I can move."
"Yeah I'm awake and I can move... I just don't want to."
"Think she'll let us take a day off?"
Lucca sits up in bed, groaning. Then she reaches for her helmet and her remote.
Flicking the sight scope into place, she pushes a button on the remote.
"In that last set of modifications, I added a remote starter. Never got a chance to test it. Hope it works. I hope it can pick up my signal from in here too." she says. "I made sure to park the machine someplace where they wouldn't decide to smash it for making a bunch of weird noises if I started it. YES! It worked! Mwahahaha I can see everyone and they still think I'm sleeping."
Crono closes his eyes as Lucca fiddles with her machine, snickering every so often.
Just as he almost falls asleep again, Ben walks in.
"Aha! Caught red handed. I thought that was your machine up there. Get out of bed you two."
Crono and Lucca groan and grumble as they get out of bed.
They walk outside, blinking at the bright sunlight after the dim hut interior.
Shari ambushes them almost immediately.
"Ah! Good. More training!" she says.
Both of them groan and rub sore muscles.
"Bah be strong! Is easy today." she says.
Jaina chuckles as she walks up behind them, trailed closely by Riki.
"Up for that hot shower now?" she asks.
Both of them gladly agree. Shari looks slightly disappointed, but lets them go.
They stop at the cabin and get some fresh clothing, then follow Jaina.
Jaina leads them across the field toward the lake and the wall of the crater. Once they get there they can see a large cave on the edge of the lake. Water has carved a funnel for itself in the cave floor, but there is enough room to walk with dry feet.
As they go further inside, it gets more humid and more steam is visible in the air. The sound of running water can be heard. Finally Jaina leads them into a small grotto. Near the roof on the far wall there is a hole which acts as piping for the steaming water. By the time the water reaches anyone down below, the temperature is just perfect. The channel they saw at the cave entrance begins here.
"This is it. You can put your clothes on that shelf there, and they keep a good supply of blankets to use as towels. But you'll have to decide who gets to use it first."
Crono and Lucca glance at each other.
Awhile later, after an extensive battle, Lucca happily goes into the shower grotto while Jaina and a grumbling Crono go wait at the cave entrance to make sure no one else comes in.
After a few minutes, a thought strikes Crono.
"You know... You always refer to these people as 'they'. Don't you consider yourself a part of them?"
Jaina looks at him for a moment.
"Oh... I didn't... realize I was doing that. Um... in the other language, the one they use, everything is referred to in third person. So... I guess it's habit now. Sorry."
"Oh it's ok... I just thought it was kind of odd. But that's fine. I almost didn't notice it anyway." he says.
"Shari was right. You ARE observant." she says.
Crono just chuckles.
Soon Lucca comes out, looking refreshed.
"Ohh that was sooooo nice. Took all the aches right out of me." she says.
"So you're ready to begin training again?" Jaina asks, with a twinkle in her eye.
Crono enters the cave for his turn.
As they all entered the village later, Shari spotted them and jumped to her feet. However, Ben did the same.
Ben and Shari appeared to argue for a minute before the group was within hearing range of them, then Ben turned, smiling, from a disgruntled looking Shari.
"Ahh. Feeling better?" Ben asks.
They both nod vigorously.
"Good. I wanted to show you some of the possible plans I have laid out already. I just have to steal you from Shari here."
"Plan no good if not good for fight yet! Must train!" she grumbles.
Ben ushers them toward the meeting cabin.
The inside of the cabin looked almost modern. There was a stone fireplace in one end, something none of the other huts had, and proper glass windows and a wooden table with chairs. The roof even had shingles where the other huts had thatch. It was obvious why this was made into the meeting building and was the most important building in the village.
Tacked to the table was a bunch of papers, some with sketches and some with writing.
Ben cleared off some of the papers and brought one of them to the top. Upon closer inspection, Crono saw that it was a sketched cross-section of the castle.
"I made sure to get lots of paper and pencils and stuff before coming up here. I drew this to help me figure this out, and I also drew a sketch of the outer grounds and some of the surrounding forest. I even have a less detailed map of the entire area of Truce, somewhat similar to the table that was in the amphitheater." Ben explains.
"All in all... our strategic positions are the same. He is fortified in his castle with an army bigger than our town. That makes it almost impossible to breach. WE are fortified in an extremely well defended valley. They have guard towers and sentries all over this place, carved into the walls, and they can shoot anyone approaching before they know it. We have an extra advantage because he doesn't know this place is here. However we need to KEEP it that way, to keep our promise to Shari. We also have everything we need to stay here forever if we want. Revick can't stay in that castle for more than... 6 months I would say. Not feeding that army... and that is with allowing him time to prepare and stock up. If we can lock him in there before he can prepare he's sunk. BUT. That damn army. We need to get rid of at least half of that damn army before we can reasonably hope to be a match for him and keep him locked in."
Crono looks over the map.
"You left off all the secret passages. I only know a few of them from Marle showing me, and I know she knows tons more... but you haven't got any marked here. I know for sure there's one there that leads to the kitchen... one there that leads to the dungeon... and one there that leads to the court room. And there's almost positively one leading to and from her bedroom because she could disappear at will from there. I also know a bunch that lead from places to places inside, but you have to be inside to use them." Crono says.
Ben ponders and puts some marks on the map.
"That could help immensely. I highly doubt Revick has found many of them. I spent how many years there now and I only knew about a few secret storage spots. I didn't stumble onto any secret passages, and of course Nadia wasn't about to tell me because then she wouldn't be able to sneak out when she wanted to be alone."
Ben looks at the new marks and nods.
"See if you can remember any more. These are all inside the perimeter wall... is there one leading from the forest to the grounds?"
Crono scratches his head.
"Probably... but I was always allowed through the gate so I never had to use one."
Ben mutters under his breath.
"Well... knowing that they are there still helps. Especially if Revick doesn't." he says.
Just then, Jaina pokes her head inside.
"Hey, Shari is going to go hunting for dinner tonight and she says you either come willingly or she'll hog tie you and drag you. And she sounds serious, I wouldn't laugh it off." she says.
Crono and Lucca groan.
"I guess we had better go then. That sounds unpleasant." Lucca says, sighing.
They leave Ben staring at his maps and muttering, and go join Shari outside.
Shari nods to them.
"You two, come. I show you hunt and sneak. Fire bow with sneak is more quiet than noisy thing Lucca have." she says.
Shari starts walking toward the practice yard, shouldering her bow.
"Well go on! If you're too slow she'll leave you out there, trust me. She did it to me and I spent the whole night out in a rain storm." Jaina says.
Crono and Lucca rush to catch up.
Crono and Lucca crouch in the tall grass with Shari.
"See grass move. Probably is.. Um.. rabbit? Not know English name." Shari whispers to them.
"Get bow ready. Be sneak." she continues, nudging Lucca.
Lucca gulps and tries to take the bow off her shoulder quietly, which is difficult since she had trouble keeping it from falling off her shoulder in the first place.
Shari glares at her as she clatters the arrows in her quiver, which she has difficulty getting her hand into from her kneeling position.
"Be sneak! No scare it!" Shari admonishes, still in a whisper.
Lucca finally gets the arrow out of the quiver and spends another few moments getting it nocked onto the string. When she finally does, she nods to Shari.
"Now sneak. Surprise rabbit before rabbit run. Rabbit is fast." Shari instructs, motioning for Lucca to move toward the rabbit.
Lucca tries to sneak up on the rabbit, but ends up almost tripping onto her face. The rabbit takes off, marked by a trail of waving grass.
Shari stands up and looks around.
"You scare all rabbit in area with noise. Must find more. You see trail Crono?"
Crono stands up and looks around carefully.
Lucca stands up and brushes herself off, grumbling.
"Oh! Over there! The grass is moving." he finally says.
Shari shakes her head.
"No. Is small bird. No good for eat. Hear sing?"
Crono listens carefully, and sure enough, he can hear small chirps and tweets coming from the moving grass.
"See trail Lucca?"
Lucca glances around.
"Frankly... no. But I could find something in no time with my machine."
Shari shakes her head.
"Hunter have no machine. Hunter have herself, or himself, and weapon. Must use both or hunter be hungry."
Shari points to the ground.
"See where rabbit was. Tracks. Bend grass show where rabbit go. Look for new trail."
Crono and Lucca both look around.
After awhile, Shari sighs exasperatedly.
"Look. Is track there. Be too dark to see anything when you see it! Follow."
Shari carefully follows the trail, followed by Crono and Lucca.
Soon, she pulls them both down again.
"Crono, you sneak rabbit."
Crono inhales deeply, then carefully holds his bow and nocks an arrow. Then he looks carefully for the moving grass which signaled the rabbit's location. Finding it, he moves in closer, trying to be quiet like Marle had taught him before. When he thinks he is close enough to hit the rabbit even without seeing it through the grass, he carefully readies the bow, pulls back, and looses.
The rabbit's dying scream pierces the silent air.
Shari jumps up with a whoop.
"Ahh! Nadia teach Crono more? Was good."
Lucca mutters something nasty about Crono.
Shari attaches the rabbit to her string, and then wipes off the arrow, handing it back to Crono.
"Now Lucca learn. We move. This rabbit warn all rabbits with death. Must find new one."
Awhile later, Shari stops them.
"Here. Lucca find track." she says.
Lucca sighs resignedly and searches around.
After a few minutes: "Hey! Is this one?"
Shari grins and nods.
"Lucca follow track, sneak rabbit. We follow Lucca."
Lucca sighs and gets her bow ready ahead of time, then follows the track, trying to be as quiet as possible.
Suddenly, she stops. Up ahead the grass is moving. The rabbit wasn't far.
Still trying to be as quiet as possible, Lucca pulls back, aims at the moving grass, and looses.
Another rabbit screams.
Shari whoops again.
"Ahh you both learn fast. Rabbit small. We hunt bigger." she says, attaching the rabbit to the string.
After giving Lucca's arrow back, she sets off at a trot toward the distant forest.
On the outskirts of the forest, Shari stops them.
"This is forest. Is small, but still thick. Deer and wild boar stay here. Deer just run, but wild boar attack. Must be careful and sneak. If see wild boar, tell me, no run! We sneak away and not get seen. We look for deer. Small deer, but not deer with baby. Must be small to carry back. We not leave baby deer alone."
Crono and Lucca nod, and Shari starts in between the trees. After a few feet, she stops.
"Move through forest is different. Jaina say Crono be herd of elephants yes? Shari change Crono. Bushes get thick. See." she says, pointing to some undergrowth which grows closer and closer together the further in they went.
"See ground. These stick be dry and loud when step on. See root. Trip over root and noisy. Bush is loud when moved. Must avoid all. See path? Deer make path."
Shari points to an almost invisible path leading through the bushes.
Shari moves carefully down the path, managing to avoid all the bushes and not snapping any sticks underfoot.
Crono moves down the path, trying to do exactly what Shari did. He still steps on a few sticks though. Lucca follows.
"Is good. Need practice but good. We do this lots. You learn."
Shari heads off down the path and Crono and Lucca try to follow as silently as possible.
"When you do lots and be good, you can run and be quiet. Can run for long time and not be tired. Like this."
Shari breaks into the same ground-eating trot that Jaina had used while leading them to the mountain. She stops a few feet away.
"See? You try?"
Crono and Lucca both attempt to trot but both of them fail miserably.
"You learn. Come."
She sets off down the path again.
Hours later, the hunting party is wearily walking home, dragging an old deer with them. She had been a very old doe, with white hairs starting to poke up everywhere, and Shari figured she had started to lose her hearing as well, but not without several comments on how she must have been deaf not to hear them crashing around.
Crono glances up at the sky, which was darkening with twilight. The odd star was becoming visible.
"So, how long did you know Marle for?" Crono asks.
"Marle yes. She find us when very young, before I be leader. When we both small. We have lots that... we... um. Share? What is word?"
"In common?" Lucca says.
"In common. She be queen of Guardia. I be queen of here. Both lose our mother at young age. Both want to be free. I more free. Feel sorry for Nadia locked up behind wall. But Nadia not mind so much now. She run away from walls and get lost, but we find her and help her. When she first come, she not want to leave. We start learn bow and staff together. Then Nadia miss her father, and leave, saying she not tell about us. She keep sneak up to here to see me and us, and to learn bow and staff. We friends for almost as long as we remember. I teach her our language, but she try to teach me English and it not work so well. English harder and Shari not as smart as Nadia. Now Jaina try teach English."
By this time they are almost in the village. Crono can see to the fire pit in the center. Ben and Jaina were sitting there, laughing and talking together. He notices Ben give Jaina a big hug and smile at her fondly.
"Bah look at that. We don't even know if Marle is dead and he's hitting on younger women. That's robbing the cradle! Marle said it was like work being married and I know they both hated it but come on! Was he doing the maids too? Bah!" he thinks.
Several of the villagers notice them and come running over to help. They chatter back and forth with Shari in the other language and several of them clap Crono and Lucca on the back, saying what must be congratulations. Shari looks pleased with herself.
Crono notices Ben and Jaina suddenly ignore each other, Ben to start chatting with Trini on his other side and Jaina to pet and talk to Riki at her feet.
"Sure. Try to hide it. Too late I already saw you." Crono thinks, watching them.
Jaina smiles at them as they collapse by the fire.
"So. How was the trip?" she asks.
"Exhausting." they both answer.
"They will cook the meat fast, then you can eat and sleep." Trini says.
"They better cook it fast or I'll be asleep before they're done." Lucca says.
"So talk and keep yourself awake. Ben says that queen Nadia and you all had magic power or something? But you can't use it anymore?" she says.
Lucca's eyes light up and she nods. Crono groans softly, and she jabs him in the ribs with her elbow, making him grunt.
"I have several theories about that, but there's no way for me to know for sure. The nature of magic is unpredictable and no laws of science seem to apply to it... so this is all hypothetical..."
Trini blinks a bit at all the big words and says something to Jaina while shaking her head. Jaina chuckles and shrugs. Shari comes and joins them, but quickly looks bewildered.
"The first theory I have is that when we 'fixed' time and dismantled the Epoch... somehow the Epoch was some sort of a doorway. Once we closed the doorway, we were suddenly back BEFORE we learned the magic, so we didn't know it anymore because we hadn't learned it! But this is skeptical because we learned it at the end of time, which is supposed to be in all ages and all times at once or something... Not to mention we still KNOW magic it just doesn't work."
Shari scratches her head. Trini appears to be concentrating hard on following. Jaina and Ben nod.
"The second theory, is that we had a link to Spekkio, and once time was safe again, he cut it. Spekkio was the.. Um.. thing... that taught us the magic. This seems to make more sense to me because we already know the magic was powered by 'mana' which was invisible... so maybe our supply of mana came directly from Spekkio."
Shari shakes her head in bewilderment. Trini looks confused. Jaina and Ben nod.
"And the third theory is similar to the second... except our flow of mana came from some unidentified force. It seemed that someone or something unseen was directing us through the whole thing."
Shari and Trini look at each other and shrug. Jaina and Ben nod.
"So since we DO know magic and we can still go through all the motions, and nothing happens... I would say the second or third theory is the most likely. We know the magic we just can't use it cause we ran out of fuel."
"Uh... food is ready now." Trini says.
They all help themselves to the dishes put out before them.
Later on, Crono excuses himself and goes off to bed. Lucca was caught up in explaining her magic theories to Shari and Trini, but neither of them looked like they understood much of it.
He crawls thankfully under the blanket of his bed, but despite how tired he is, he doesn't fall asleep right away. His mind starts working again.
"So, Ben and Jaina. Maybe that explains some more. Perhaps she has been sneaking down there and meeting with him. Marle probably told him about this place, with permission, so that he wouldn't freak out if she snuck out to see her friends and have a break, and he met Jaina and they started seeing each other behind Marle's back. Maybe he was the one that taught her English. HEY! Jaina was singing that lullaby in English!! And she said her MOTHER taught it to her... but her mother is dead. I assume, since Trini is the one taking care of her... Unless SHARI is her mother! That would explain why she is so well trained and why Shari seems to favor her. Shari wouldn't have time to take care of her so she lets Trini do it while she takes care of the village. But Shari doesn't know that much English... but maybe she knows a lullaby. I haven't exactly heard her sing, and she could memorize a lullaby without realizing what the words meant easily. That makes even more sense. This place is one big mystery bah. I'll never get any sleep at this rate."
With that thought, he drifts off to sleep.
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