Much Ado About Lucca
Chapter 1: The Set Up
Crono's mom was up at the usual time every morning, having set her alarm clock for seven-thirty on the dot. Her normal routine consisted of dusting, watering the household plants, fixing breakfast for her sleepy-headed son, and feeding the cats. Poor things. Without her, they would be skin and bones by now.
But this morning was different. Her alarm did not go off, and as such, she awoke much later than she intended. Three whole hours later, to be precise, and that hadn't happened in more years than she could remember.
Quick as a wink, she jumped out of bed, washed up for the day, and slipped on her house dress and apron. "My, my, my," she muttered to herself, brushing her hair and putting it into a neat bun at the back of her head. "I wonder what happened? Is my clock broken? Maybe I should have Taban look at it for me."
As soon as she opened her bedroom door, she knew something was strange. The house was too quiet.
The cats were sprawled over various pieces of furniture or cleaning themselves in a patch of sunlight on the kitchen floor. None of them seemed the slightest bit distressed, which was a rarity. Having gone without food for the entire night, they should have been meowing and circling her legs like vultures until she fed them their morning meal.
The woman cocked her head slightly, her forehead wrinkling in thought. "Maybe they caught a few mice?" The smallest of the cats, a nasty-tempered lavender one, yawned widely at her and started to lick its backside. "Little imp," she cooed, scooping it up in a hug. It suffered her petting just long enough for her to loosen her grip before it hopped out of her arms and hid under the kitchen table, hissing. Whatever had placated the cats had to be a good thing, Crono's mom decided. It just meant one less chore for her to do.
Swifter than usual, she watered the house plants and gave a gasp when she got to the last flowerpot. Her prized tulips were gone! All that remained were the stems, broken halfway down and oozing clear liquid. She looked around the room at the cats, especially the lavender one, but none of them looked guilty enough to be the culprit. Besides, the stems were torn, not chewed, and she doubted that the animals would eat something so potentially poisonous. That only left Crono as the culprit.
"But why would he do something like that? He's never harmed my plants before..." Now she was worried. Was Crono...mad at her about something? Lord knows, she tried to be a good mother to him. When he was around, anyway. But he was always off on an adventure, like his father, God rest his soul. "I'll just have to ask him when he gets up."
Crono would be famished, and flower-wrecker or not, she loved her son. He would have a warm meal to start off the day. She scrambled up two eggs with butter and seasoning, adding four slices of bacon into the skillet. The mouthwatering aroma enticed the cats, many who purred at her feet, hoping for something to fall on the floor for them to nibble on. When she was done, she squeezed some fresh orange juice into a glass, straining out the pulp and seeds. She set the meal down on the table, catching the purple cat as it attempted to hop onto one of the chairs.
"Oh, no you don't," she scolded it. "That's Crono's breakfast, not yours. And don't bother glaring at me, kitty. Go run along and play with the other cats." She set the cat down, and it stayed where she left it, eyeing the table and the plate with thwarted desire.
The woman ascended the stairs that led to her son's bedroom. He was probably still asleep, that lazy boy. But he was her only son, and she loved him, so she tolerated his bad habits.
"Crono! It's almost afternoon. Time to get up, sweetie!
She blinked in shock, unable to fully comprehend what she was seeing. Not only was her son not in the room, but his bed was made! And he had fed the cats, if their half-empty dishes could be believed. Furthermore, his katana was resting on the pegs above the door, so he hadn't gone adventuring again.
Now things were starting to add up.
Returning to her bedroom, the woman checked her clock. The alarm was set for seven-thirty on the dot as usual. However, someone had taken the liberty of turning off the ringer. Setting the clock back on her night stand, she had a pretty good idea who that someone had been.
"Now, where has that boy run off to this time?"
Shaking her head in mild annoyance, she returned to the kitchen and caught the lavender cat in the process of snitching a bacon slice. When it saw her, it hissed.
"Oh, go ahead," she relented.
The cat looked smug as it hopped off the table and paraded its prize in front of the others.
Settling down in front of the cooling plate of bacon and eggs, Crono's mom helped herself to them with a sigh. What could have been so important that it required sneaking about under a mother's nose?
"My mom is going to kill me when I get back," Crono moaned, looking at the tulips he had filched that very morning. They were wrapped in some yellow tissue paper and tied off with a large blue ribbon that he had bought at the general store.
"Aw, calm down," Lucca soothed. "It's for a good cause, and when she hears what it is, she's gonna flip!"
Crono shuffled alongside his lifelong friend. "Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of." He straightened his clothing, wincing as it pulled one way or tightened in another. "Is this get-up really necessary? I haven't worn this outfit in years."
"You want to make a good impression, right?" Lucca adjusted her glasses and held up one index finger wisely. "A man's merit may be best judged by his appearance." She giggled. "My mom taught me that. It's an old proverb."
"You're saying that girls judge men by what they're wearing?" Crono looked dubious. "I don't see how wearing a fancy outfit has any bearing on a person's personality."
"Well, what it really means is that you have to stand out for a girl to notice you."
"But Lucca, Marle has noticed me. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here this morning." Crono adjusted his attire again. "And if she liked me in my normal clothes, then why do I have to dress up?"
"Today is an important day! You can't just treat it as if it's any old morning. And she's not just a regular person like you and me. She's Princess Nadia, heir to our entire kingdom, or have you forgotten that little fact?" Lucca stretched, breathing deep of the fresh spring air. "Besides, what's wrong with putting on a little show, once and a while? Marle likes flashy things, so she'll appreciate that you took the effort to look nice today. Especially since you'll have to be talking with You-Know-Who first."
Crono grimaced. "Yeah, and I'm not looking forward to that. Marle's father and I have never really gotten along."
The two friends stopped at the edge of the forest surrounding the royal castle, resting in the shade the trees provided. The sun was warm, the grass was greener than they had seen in years, and the sky was cloudless and blue.
"A wonderful day for the inevitable," Crono gulped, looking back at the tulips.
Lucca took a drink from her water canteen. "You make it sound as if you're marching to your doom," she laughed. She held out her water. "Want some?"
"You never know. I just might be." Crono accepted the canteen and took a swig. "I have no idea how the king is going to react. For all I know, I might find myself back in the dungeon with my head in the guillotine again." He handed the water back.
Lucca closed off the top and refastened the container to her belt. She grinned. "If that happens, Lucca the Great will have to come rescue you again!"
Her friend couldn't help but smile, too. "What would I ever do without you?"
"Ain't that the truth," the inventor giggled immodestly. But Crono could tell she sincerely appreciated the comment by the faint blush she tried to hide by walking on ahead. "C'mon, slowpoke! The early bird catches the worm, you know."
He shook his head, still smiling, and followed after her.
Castle Guardia hadn't changed much in four-hundred years. It was pretty much the same as it had been during the Middle Ages. It was built of solid stone blocks that had been painstakingly carved from Truce Canyon and hauled all the way back to the building site. Damages done by the Mystics during their long battle with the Humans had been repaired with newer white rock to fill in the holes. The pennants were also newer, and they bore the symbol of the current king of Guardia Kingdom.
Two guards stood stoic at the foot of the grand staircase that led to the throne room as Crono and Lucca entered the castle. Their uniforms were simple, unlike the heavy armor worn back in Frog's time.
"Hi, guys!" Lucca chirped. "Keep up the good work!"
The guards smiled at her, but otherwise didn't break their at-attention stances.
Lucca and Crono came to visit often enough, so they had become rather friendly with the duo. Lucca always made it a point to say hello to them. Crono wasn't sure he understood why, but he suspected it had something to do with their last bad run-in with the palace authorities.
The throne room was as auspicious as ever. The lords and ladies of the court had yet to manifest themselves, as they were probably just now getting out of bed. The Chancellor was there, however, writing out the day's schedule.
"You two are here rather early," he commented without looking up. His pen continued to scratch the paper secured to his clipboard. The old man was a very short, very temperamental person who no one but the king seemed to like or trust. Even after it was revealed that the previous Chancellor had been a fake, the attitude between the impostor and the real deal hadn't changed much. "I expect you're here to see the king."
Crono blinked, then looked suspicious. "How did you know?"
The old man smirked, and it wasn't a pleasant expression. "Dear boy, not much goes on in this kingdom that I am not aware of." He scribbled down something. "Besides, you're in the throne room and Princess Nadia's chambers are nowhere near here. I should think that your motives for visiting would be obvious."
Lucca gritted her teeth but was determined to be polite. "Since you know so much, where can we find the king?"
"His Majesty is upstairs taking his breakfast."
"Great. Thanks," the girl replied. "Let's go, Crono."
As the two started on past, the Chancellor spoke up again. "And who gave you permission to just barge in on His Majesty like that?" Now the old man looked up from his writing, and his smile was bordering on wolfish. "I take it that this isn't an emergency? Or is another monster from the sky devouring the world again?"
"You still don't believe us about that, do you?" Crono's face was stony.
"What I believe and don't believe is not the issue here, young man," the old man sniffed, changing the subject. "You'll have to wait until His Majesty graces you with his presence. Until that time, why don't you make yourselves useful by cleaning up that mess in the basement?"
"'That mess,' that you're referring to, just happens to be the parts of the Epoch!" Lucca growled. "And for your information, grandpa, it was your idea to house it there! Wasn't that the whole reason the king funded the construction of an additional wing for a boarding dock?"
"Only because you hooligans were tearing all over the countryside in that thing, taking the princess goodness knows where! At least this way, I can keep an eye on you three and make sure the princess starts behaving like a respectable young woman instead of a bratty tomboy!"
"Who're you callin' a hooligan, you old buzzard?!" Lucca flared, putting her hands on her hips and looming over the shorter adult.
"That's Chancellor Buzzard to you!" the old man shot back, standing on his tiptoes to be at nearly eye-level with the purple-haired girl.
"By thunder! What is all the commotion about?" Everyone turned to see their royal lord exiting the stairwell that led to his chambers. "Chancellor, Lucca, what is the meaning of all this shouting? I could hear you clear up the stairs." King Guardia was an imposing figure, standing quite tall in his costly garments and gold crown. Right now, he was turning the full force of his royal glower in their direction.
Lucca bowed. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, King Guardia, but this buzzard here was getting on my nerves!" She glared at the old man.
"Lucca, don't be so rude," Crono urged, glancing nervously at their liege.
"Oh, woe!" The Chancellor stumbled away, leaning heavily against one of the walls. "My poor frail heart... To be called such a name by a child! What has the world come to, when such shrewish words can be uttered at the elderly?" He dabbed at his eyes with the tip of his long beard. "I do declare, my poor heart is breaking in sadness because of it!"
King Guardia rubbed his eyes with one hand and sighed. "For pity's sake, Lucca. Apologize to him or he'll keep at this all day."
"I'd rather eat a...a frog!" She declared, spinning on her heel. "I'm going to see Marle now. Good day!" And with that, she stomped out of the room.
The king moved to his throne and sat down heavily. "You know," he said to Crono, "if she were anyone else, I wouldn't let her get away with that. Unfortunately, she's the one who I have to thank for getting to have toast in the morning, rather than cold, plain bread." He made a sardonic face and placed his right hand over his heart. "Ah, the wonders of science. And Chancellor, you can stop moping around over there. It's not winning you any sympathy."
The old man huffed. "Very well, sire." He took a seat on the steps that led to the throne and continued with his writing.
"Now Crono, what brings you here this morning?" the king inquired.
Now that the moment had come, the redheaded youth found himself tongue tied. He had faced down some of the toughest villains in his life, and here he was faltering in front of his future father-in-law.
"Um..." Crono began intelligently. "You see, that is..."
King Guardia frowned. "What is it? Speak up, boy!"
Crono clutched the bouquet to his chest, bowed as deep as his back would allow him, and said everything in a frenzied rush. "Can I marry your daughter, sir?! I really, really love her and I promise to take good care of her. She'll never want for anything- I mean, of course not, she's the princess- but I'll find a job and make her the happiest girl in the world! See, I even brought her these flowers as a symbol of my love!" He thrust them out towards the king and nearly dropped them. "I also promise to have many sons so that your noble bloodline can continue. Of course, I mean, that is if she wants kids, because I'd never do anything that she'd disagree with. Or you for that matter. So please, please consider my offer first over her other suitors and don't chop off my head if you don't like me, because I'm sorry if I offended you with my request!"
Crono realized that he was babbling like an idiot, so he shut his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut, awaiting the explosion of anger that he was positive would follow. To the side, he heard the Chancellor snicker softly.
Crap. That was brilliant of me. I should have rehearsed with Lucca first. As the seconds stretched out, Crono felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, not to mention that he was still bowing and it was making him lightheaded. Any moment now, he's going to summon the guards and I'm going to be "escorted" to the dungeon. Then Mom will be brought down to see me one last time, and she'll cry and ask me what the hell I was thinking, trying to marry the princess.
"Rise, Crono. I would look at the face of my son-to-be."
The swordsman cautiously lifted his head, unsure if he had heard correctly. "Um...sire?"
The king's face was solemn, but not angry. "Since the death of my beloved wife," he began, "I have done my best to raise Nadia alone. The task hasn't been easy, since she likes to thwart me at every turn with her antics." He half-smiled. "But I suppose that is just one of the inherent dangers of parenting. I know that it was wrong of me to try and control her life. Even children need to grow up sometime, and I guess I've just been having a hard time letting her go. Nadia is the last bit of my wife's legacy that she left to me when she departed this world."
"It can't have been easy, sire," the Chancellor consoled. It appeared that he had stopped his writing and was now playing a game of Exes and Ohs with himself.
"Indeed, it has been," Guardia agreed. "But, we must move on with our lives." He looked sternly at Crono. "My daughter has chosen you as her suitor, and it is not my place to interfere. So long as she is happy, then I am content with her choice. However, should you make my little girl cry for any reason, I will exert my royal status and annul your marriage to her, then slap you in irons faster than you can scream. Are we clear, young man?"
Crono nodded quickly. "I completely understand."
"Very well. Off with you now before those flowers wilt."
"Yes, sir!" Crono bowed again and exited as fast as he could. As the double doors closed behind him, he lingered on the stairs to let it all sink in. Her father had agreed. He was now free to ask Marle if she would have him as her husband.
He walked down the stairs as if in a dream until he was in between the two guards. They glanced at him in curiosity, noticing his thunderstruck expression and wondering what had gone on in the throne room. Lucca had already come charging out, madder than a wet hen, and now Crono looked as if he'd received the shock of his life.
"I'm...getting married," the young man said slowly, testing out the statement. "I'm...getting married." It sounded even better the second time he heard it. "I'm getting married!" A huge grin spread across his face. He flung open his arms wide, spinning to face the two guards. "I'M GETTING MARRIED!" With a whoop and a fist pump to the air, one very excited Crono took off for his girlfriend's room at top speed, leaving the two guards to shake their heads at each other with knowing smiles.
Never a dull day at the castle.