Antonya heard the carriage door close and felt that she was not alone. Alarmed, she sat up slowly and looked around. They had stopped for the night, and no one had woken her. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she noticed someone sitting in the corner. She searched silently for some way to lighten the compartment without wakening the unknown person in the corner. She slowly pulled at the curtains hoping the light from the torches outside would be enough. Just as the light began to enter, the person growled. ‘Antonya, close the curtains. They cannot see you in here.’ Recognising the voice instantly, she sighed and slowly re-closed the curtain.
‘Uncle, why are you in here? Why are we not inside? You should have woken me up’ she whispered. ‘It is not safe inside the tavern where they are staying Antonya. I have been in and walked the rooms, Cristian stays with Alexandre on the third floor, I stay next to the Tsar and his wife on the second level, and you are all alone on the first level. Not even Sara stays with you. There are numerous drunken men roaming the halls of the first and second floors. I told them you felt unwell, and that you and I would wait here until the passing of illness, when I would call for Cristian’s assistance and we would escort you to your room safely.’
Antonya was unsure of what to think. Surely for their plan to work, she had to be officially wed to Alexandre before they could take over the throne of Serbia. She rubbed her head, and pulled the blankets closer around her. ‘So I am to stay here the night uncle, is that what you think is the best thing to do?’ she yawned. ‘Yes Antonya. I will stay with you and keep you warm.’
Almost as soon as she laid her head back down Marco heard the soft sounds of his niece asleep. He sighed, drawing the curtains fully closed. Just as his eyes began to close, a soft tapping was to be heard on the door of the carriage. Cautiously, Marco peered through the curtains to see who was there. Cristian held Sara in his arms, her night gown torn and dirty. Instantly Marco shook Antonya to wake up, and opened the carriage door. Carefully lifting Sara inside, Cristian whispered a quick set of tasks to Marco and ran to fetch some water, food and bandages for Sara, and a guard to keep watch on the carriage. Antonya wrapped her blankets around Sara and held her tight, singing to her while wiping the tears from her cheeks. Sara sobbed silently, frozen in pain and shock.
Cristian returned within a few minutes, with a guard in tow. As he entered the carriage, he handed the guard a large bag of coins and ordered him to stay at the door to the carriage, allowing no one entry. He pulled out the items he had found after securing the carriage door, and lit a torch. Carefully, he dabbed at her cuts and bruises, cleaning them, and applying a soothing lotion to them. He bound up her left thigh and her left arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Antonya watched him, and noticed that his arm also had a large gash in it. Laying Sara’s head down gently on one of her pillows, she reached out for Cristian’s arm and had it cleaned and bound in no time. He sat up on the opposite couch, and Antonya threw him one of the spare blankets. He began to speak, but she stopped him. ‘Not now cousin, rest up. We have all day tomorrow to talk.’ She left Sara to the care of Marco, and sat next to her cousin, who fell asleep on her shoulder.
When they awoke, the convoy had already begun the days travels, and the sun was almost at noon. Sara changed into a new set of clothes, but Antonya refused to let her resume her duties. Sara looked to Marco, but he too nodded in agreement. ‘Sara, it is not right to talk in here yet about what happened, but you are not safe here, it seems to me, and we will not allow you to resume your normal ways until we see it is fit. I can have a short-temper with my staff occasionally, but that does not mean I am not merciful and compassionate. Stay with us.’
Lunch was distributed not long later, and the smell of food was what woke Cristian. As he began to rise, he winced in pain. Antonya and Marco gently sat him up. Tears began to fall from his eyes as he looked at Sara. Marco nodded to Antonya, and they swapped places. They began talking in Serbian in hushed voices, and Antonya tended to Sara. ‘It’s funny’ Sara said softly, ‘I would never ever have imagined that someone would have to tend to me. I am sorry Your Highness, please forgive me.’ Antonya stroked her forehead gently as she dipped a piece of bread into the soup to feed to Sara. ‘Sara, you are a friend to me, not a maid. All these things I gladly do to a friend. You saved my life once, now I shall repay the favour.’ She smiled warmly at Sara and resumed to feed her.
The girls’ warm spirits brightened Cristian’s sour mood, but the events of the night before still frightened him. ‘At least Marco knows what to look for now,’ he thought to himself, as he reached for an apple. He opened the curtains as far as they would go, and sighed. Cristian looked at Antonya, and then motioned for the convoy to stop. Taking Antonya’s hand, he led his cousin to the spare carriage that was supposed to be for him and Marco. From the window of his carriage Alexandre saw them leave and begged his parents to join them. ‘Fine, be gone’ the Tsarina grumbled.
Running after them, he reached the last carriage just before they closed the door. They all sat in silence while Antonya reached for the carriage’s blankets and handed them out. As she sat, Cristian motioned for the convoy to take off again, and he tied back the curtains by his window. Antonya pressed herself against the window and sighed. Sara and Cristian’s injuries; they surely had something to do with her. Every time something went wrong, the entire time she’d been here, it seemed to be connected to her. She felt like the root of all the problems, and as her breath fogged up the glass of the carriage window she began to draw sad faces on it. Her eyes began to water up, so she turned herself even further away from the others. She put her hands in the pockets of her coat and pulled it tighter around her, fingering the locket that she had kept with her since she had found it.
‘Antonya, YOUR HIGHNESS, I’m trying to talk to you’ Cristian waved his hands in front of her face. Antonya had no idea anyone had been talking to her. She mumbled in return. Alexandre grabbed Antonya’s arm and pulled her close to him. She hadn’t realised just how much she was shivering. Sitting in the Tsarevich’s arms, she leaned her head against his chest and began to fall asleep again. Cristian sighed, realising there was going to be no way to break the news to her calmly.
“Sara was raped last night,” his voice sounded like death in her ears.
“Cristian… are you being serious?”
“She lied and said that she was you, to protect you. Those men were really after you.”


"I owe you this much, Velibor, for your honesty with me, and guiding myself and these young ones to the safe and loving arms of a man I've known long enough to call Father. The story is long, I must warn you. But I will trust you with the truth, as I have trusted you with my life."

Maria took a deep breath. Thank goodness the children were sleeping, she prayed silently that they were comfortable and warm, for she knew there was no way she would be allowed to check on them until she had been honest with this man.

"You are very close to the Serbian Royal Family, I have come to understand. So if I do not explain places and names to you, will you understand?"
"I will ask what I want to know when I want to know it. Hurry up and tell me your story, my patience is wearing thin." Velibor said in a cold, menacing voice.
Maria understood now that she had hurt him. She wanted to reach over and touch his shoulder, but she knew that would be out of line. "Well, I shall begin" she said slowly, "from the very beginning."

"Queen Ivana had fallen pregnant with a child before her and King Vladan were to be wed. Should the child have been found out, they would have been portrayed as a child of evil, a bad omen on the country, and a bad omen for the King and Queen themselves. The wedding was delayed, and Queen Ivana was sent to the Spring palace under the pretense that 'she needed time to be sure of her decision in marrying King Vladan'. For two years she stayed here, Marius served as her butler, and only a few trusted servants around to keep her company and help her care for herself and the child. Vladan visited often, spoiling his child, which turned out to be a beautiful, strong, healthy girl. She had his eyes. In between his visits, Ivana would grow sad and lonely, and she began to sow the tapestry you saw, among others, to help decorate the court. People of the court began to grow weary of her and the Spring palace, which was once a very popular destination for nobility to travel to; renowned for the magestic waterfall, and vibrant forestry beyond that. After six months of her being alone, King Vladan bought with him on his next trip a maid called Carol. I'm sure you may have met her in the city while we were at Marius' house. Together, Carol and Ivana managed to decorate this entire hall with beautiful tapestries, and many of the other key rooms also. Queen Ivana began to feel so at home here, that the palace became known as Ann's palace. The child was now a year old, and as visitors began to visit the castle, Ivana would tell them that Carol was her distant cousin, and the child was Carol's daughter. Her husband had passed away, and she couldn't leave them to fend alone. The story caught on quickly to the courts, and all seemingly believed it.

Vladan never let on, but the story hurt him. He wanted to tell people the truth, and introduce his beautiful young daughter to the world, once his wife and he were to be married. He planned to marry Ivana, and then not long later have Carol killed, so that they could seemingly adopt their daughter back into their family, without any scandal. Ivana refused, but Vladan was persistent. She urged Carol to take her daughter away into safety, while she returned to the courts and married Vladan. The story she told was that Carol had taken her daughter on a vacation, and they would return in time. Vladan and Ivana had a beautiful wedding, it was told. They returned to the Spring palace for a month after their wedding with many members of the court following. Vladan's sole intention for returning was to find his daughter. Marius was sentenced to never leave the walls of the Spring palace, to keep a constant eye out for his daughter. On the last day, Carol returned to the castle in tears, claiming that something had happened to the child. Vladan was furious, and ordered the entire castle to be evacuated except for his wife, Carol and Marius. As everyone returned to the main city, he locked them all in a room, and ordered his general to attack the palace, but make it look as though the castle had been in mourning for a week, when rumours reached the castle that Queen Ivana had walked from the Spring castle with the help of a maid. Vladan, excited to hear that the woman he loved was alive, searched the town looking for her. She was found, along with his daughter and Carol, staying at a small house out in the country, owned by a gentleman named Lukas. You would know Lukas now as the castle's gardener.

Ivana begged Vladan to give Carol a second chance. She suggested that they all come to the castle together. He refused, but Lukas and Carol threatened to reveal the truth of the child to the people if he didn't agree. The young girl was introduced to the castle as an orphan, to be trained as a maid when she came of age. Carol became a nurse, taking care of the orphans and young children of the castle. Lukas was appointed castle gardener. The King grew further and further into depression, until one day, Queen Ivana announced she was pregnant with a child. There was great celebration in the castle. The Spring castle had long been forgotten, it had been ten years since it was destroyed. Carol and the first child had long been forgotten. Queen Ivana would sometimes send her small gifts, but could never bring herself to visit the child. King Vladan sent a small token on her birthday only. She was old enough to know now who she was, and why she was the only child receiving these gifts. She grew more and more beautiful as each year passed. Carol struggled to hide her resemblance to the Queen; cutting her hair short, making sure she was always thin, and that her skin was dark from the sun. A year after the birth of Princess Antonya, the King decreed that the first daughter was to leave the castle and return only if her life was in danger. She was given a job just outside the town, as a maid for a noble family. Struggling with her new life, the girl wrote often to Marius and Carol looking for support and affection.

Everyone inside the castle and out had heard of Princess Antonya's rebellious attitude, and the knight who was rumoured to not be going to war purely because he was her lover. The girl hated hearing it, how Antonya could be loved by her parents, how she was turned away because her parents made a mistake, not her. The war grew closer and closer to the residence she was staying at. The girl feared what she should do, should the war come too close to the house. Neither the Lord nor the Lady of the house were home to ask, and they didn't reply to her letters. She received a letter to Lukas, telling her that Carol was unable to write due to preparations at the castle being made: the Princess was leaving to Russia with her Uncle Marco. It was two days ride from where she was to Lukas' house, and his son would be there waiting for her."

Maria took a breath. That was the whole story, as best she could tell it. Although they were ten years apart, Princess Antonya was her younger sister. She was nervous. If Velibor didn't believe her, she would be without help in trying to protect these children.

"You... expect me... to believe..." he said slowly, thinking through his words, "that whole... story?"
"I, it's a lot.."
"You have no idea. The conspiracy that you are? How could you tell me this knowing what and who I am to the Princess? You make it sound as though she is your sworn enemy, and if you say so, that makes you MY sworn enemy!" He yelled, absolutely furious. He had no idea what to believe. He was cold, tired and hungry; heartbroken and had just had his trust betrayed; his head was a mess.

He stormed out of the hall, back towards the waterfall. The sun had begun to rise, soft rays shining through the trees onto the water. The birds were singing softly. Slow, heavy footsteps could be heard from the other end of the corridor.
     "Velibor" his voice sounded, warm and soothing. "It is a lot, I understand. Walk with me, may I show you more of the castle that is not ruined?" Marius stood only a few paces away from him now, his arm outstretched. "You must understand, although it is hard for you, it is also hard for Maria, who is not allowed to be who she truly is; burdened with an identity she can never reveal to any one. This is also her first time back to Ivana's Palace. I am yet to show her what I wish to show you."
He accepted, not knowing what else to do. Maybe there would be a fact or two he could see, that would help him understand what was the truth. As they walked through various passages, some of them seeming untouched by time, others with walls collapsed, or holes in the floor, Marius told him of the history of each room and pathway. He had been in this castle since he was born, and had always tried to take care of the remaining rooms as much he could while he was still able to move. He admitted to not having been down here in a few months now, the weather had begun to hurt his old body.
They walked passed a kitchen, an old gallery with some of the paintings still intact. On the wall he noticed a large portrait of King Vladan and Queen Ivana on what looked like their wedding day. There was a painting of a cute little girl not far down with a very young woman, he assumed this was Carol, as Marius was in the background in his unmistakable uniform of a Royal house steward.
     "Baby Maria, that is the little girl here in the picture. When she was born, she was named Ana, after her mother. We had to change her name as she started to grow older, for she looked exactly like the Queen, except that she had Vladan's eyes."
     "Antonya looks more like her father" Velibor thought out loud.
     "I am yet to see the Younger Princess except for the paintings that have been in the markets. I have, of course, added a painting of her to the gallery here. I believe, that you are the young knight she chose to pose with for her coming-of-age ceremony."
Velibor turned and saw the newer painting up on the wall. It was indeed Antonya and he, two years ago. She was so beautiful. Instinctively, he reached out to touch her face, but caught himself before Marius noticed; thankfully he was pre-occupied staring at the painting of Carol.
     "Forgive me for asking..." Velibor paused trying to find a polite way to ask. "Ah... Carol was a... very close companion of yours?"
     "Did I love her? I think that is what you are trying to ask young man. And yes, I do believe so. She was so polite. I'd never seen Ivana so happy. Carol and her Highness seemed to fit together perfectly. The entire palace brightened up, she woke up each morning with purpose, and Carol had the most beautiful smile. Alas, the stewards' life is a lonely one, boy. But I do not regret a single moment of my life, except that I allowed myself to grow old!" he laughed at the last comment, his eyes still on the painting of Carol.


The journey was lonely, long and arduous. Everything had been packed. Antonya had had appointments with Luis the dressmaker all week and consequently a new wardrobe was accompanying her to Gatchina. Despite the pain that she knew must come, her heart was on fire. She loved to travel. She was travelling alone in her carriage, Marco likewise, whereas the Tsarevitch and Cristian were together. The Tsar and Tsarina had ridden ahead into the night to make sure everything was ready at the palace. It was Serbian royalty coming to visit them after all.
They stopped shortly for lunch, the maids quickly bringing food for them. They ate in silence, and quickly too, for the weather was freezing. She was the first to finish eating, being bored of the silence, she retired quickly to her carriage craving warmth and needing to be alone in her own thoughts. It felt like forever that she sat there, staring out of the window, opened book in one hand, face leaning in the other. She faced away from the door, for fear of catching Cristian’s eye(or anyone else’s for that matter). She saw Cristian return to his carriage, and heard Marco noisily running into his. The snow had begun to fall softly again. But she had heard or seen no sign of Alexandre returning, and in the reflection of her windows she could see their carriage perfectly. The maids were running around picking up last minute things, and the head Coach’s whistle sounded. Suddenly the door of her carriage opened and slammed shut. She didn’t need to turn around. She could tell the breathing anywhere.
He sat by the edge of the door, not wanting to move too close to her. She looked very Russian in her new winter clothes. Luis had done a marvellous job. She stared dejectedly out the opposite window, her hazel eyes drinking the snow-white fields and perfectly-iced trees. Her lips seemed a purple tinge of red, must be the cold. In thinking of that, he shivered, only just realising how cold he was. Antonya turned around. “Cold, your Highness?” she almost murmured. He nodded, hugging himself. She pulled a large mink rug from the other chair, and he sat next to her. “No, come on the other side Alexandre, so that if I may fall asleep you can be my pillow” she said, not really listening to the words she was speaking. He laughed, and looked at her earnestly. “Antonya, there would be no greater honour in this world.” He winked, and she looked away, not sure what to do. Alexandre moved by the window, Antonya sat very close next to him, and he covered them both with the rug. He pulled it up to his shoulders, almost burying Antonya. She punched him, and pulled it back down again. “I didn’t realise you were there, Antonya” he teased. “Oh really” she rolled her eyes “would you like me to prove to you that I am here?” Alexandre couldn’t help it. She was so beautiful when she was angry. His hand reached up to her chin, stroking her cheek gently, and he moved forward, eager for the taste of her soft, cold lips. He held her tight, and she sighed, resting her head on his chest. She knew this moment would come. There was no way she could avoid it. They sat like that for a long time, just staring out to the changing landscape beyond.
Burying her hands in the blanket, she found her book, and decided for lack of anything better; she may as well read it. Her mother had chosen it for her as a departing gift: a memory of her homeland; so if she may ever feel alone, all she needed to do was read and remember. Smiling at the thought, she re-opened to the first page. “Shall I read it to you, Antonya? I would love to, if you like.” He said earnestly. “You can read Serbian, Alex?” shocked, Antonya sat up. “Do you doubt me? Of course I can!” he winked, taking the book from her hands. Holding her hand in one, and the book in the other, Alexandre cleared his throat.
“Once upon a time, there was a handsome young man called Alexandre, who fell in love with a stupid Princess called Antonya of Serbia. She was helpless, and he was hopeless. Together, they found help and hope, and everything was as it should be once more. The end.” he finished matter-of-factly, closing the book and hugging her tight. She moved away, taking the book from him, smiling mischievously. “Alexandre.” She stated “You. Can’t. Read. Serbian! I thought it was too good to be true!” He hung his head in shame, laughing harder still. “Of course I can’t read it! I’m a pure Russian, not Serbian, Antonya! Oh I love you!” “Well, that’s a shame to you, for I have perfect Russian AND perfect Serbian, and am a pure blood Serbian, what say you to that Alexandre? I think I win!”
Upon the last word, the carriages came to a halt. Rubbing the window to see outside, the night was fast approaching, as was another town. Marco and Cristian jumped into Antonya’s carriage too, to make room for more of the maids to ride inside, out of the cold. They would be leaving the carriages for the night soon anyway. So it was of no great deal. Alexandre went to stand as they came in. As they were seated, he sat towards the edge of the chair.
She smiled, waiting for him to sit back down comfortably again. Leaning back on him, Antonya opened the book at the first page, for what must have been the fiftieth time that day. In a sweet, bed-time story voice, she began to read. “Shall I translate for you?” Cristian laughed, noticing the look on Alexandre’s face. They all laughed, and Marco took the book, translating it into Russian as he read.
Darkness began its conquest of the sky, succeeding just as the convoy reached the town. Sara opened the carriage door to escort Antonya to her room, only to find her asleep. ‘Don’t worry about it Sara. I’ll bring her in’ Marco called from somewhere inside the dark carriage. ‘Are you sure, my Lord? The Tsarevich asked me to ensure that her highness reached her room safely and had a good night’s rest.’ ‘Yes I understand. I will make sure of this myself.’ To reassure her, he moved more into the light. Sara saw that it was really Marco, so she apologised and closed the carriage door.


Bato ran down a long corridor, and waited at the end. “Mr Velibor you walk too slow! You will miss supper if you walk like that” he yelled, impatiently. The corridor seemed like a long entrance hallway. The right hand side had embellished archways, leading out to a balcony over the forest. From the great noise he heard he assumed there was a waterfall not too far away. “Like the hidden castle of the greats, the stories mama used to tell me” he whispered in awe. Bato, frustrated, ran up to him and grabbed his hand, and dragged him to the other end. Attempting not to trip, he ran with Bato. They approached an enormous set of doors, the moonlight accentuating the gold detailing on the beautifully carved oak doors. Together, they pushed one door open, and then he helped Bato to lock it with a long heavy beam.
 Turning around, this room was even more beautiful than the one before. Long tapestries hung from the walls, depicting tales of mighty kings, hard battles, love and heroes. In between each tapestry a different coat of arms was presented on shields, with swords behind them mounted to the walls. Four shields in total, Velibor counted. He recognised the third shield as the coat of arms of the second king of Serbia. Walking up to it, he traced the image on the shield. “Antonya, my love, I will come for you” he whispered.
A tug on his coat pulled him back into reality, and as he looked down Bato stared up at him with anger in his eyes. “Be faster mister!” and he ran off, expecting Velibor to follow him. He made a note himself that he would revisit this room again soon, and ran after Bato. At the far end of the great hall were four thrones. To the left of the thrones was a small doorway, and behind that he could see the light of a fire. They ran through the door and were greeted by Maria and Elena.
It was a small room, without windows and only one door. The fire had been lit in the centre of the room, and surrounding it there were blankets laid out. Marius sat tending to the fire, and the other children lay about the room, eating out of small bowls what seemed to be a hot stew. Bato ran straight to join them, and Elena followed after him with his bowl of food. “You did well Bato” she soothed, and kissed his forehead. Velibor sat in one corner of the room, opposite the doorway, and closed his eyes. The rough stone wall behind his head felt coarse, but comforting. It reminded him of the stones of the window ledge in Antonya’s room.
Every night he would climb up to her window to watch her sleep, to be with her, to take care of her. She slept so still, and she seemed so fragile in her sleep. It took all his self-control not to leave the window ledge and wrap her up in his arms. How he longed to sleep beside her, to hold her body to his. Just to be with her.
It was a cold, but clear night the first time he climbed the wall in the courtyard. He had hoped she would still be awake, and had a basket of strawberries in one hand. As he reached the window ledge he realised she was asleep, but could not bring himself to leave. He crept across the room and stood by her bedside. He removed his glove to run his finger along her cheek, but withdrew as she shivered at his touch. His hands must have been too cold, he thought to himself. Putting his glove back on, he left the strawberries on her table and left for the night, not wanting to disturb her any further.
Velibor sighed as he recollected memories. It felt like so long since he had been in a castle. “Papa, papa!” someone tugged his coat, awakening him from his thoughts. “Papa,” he looked down, and saw Sasha, Maria’s youngest daughter “Papa!” Velibor laughed. “Yes, little angel?” he softened, wondering what was wrong. She gave him a hug, and a little flower. He picked her up and held her in his arms. “I love you Papa, don’t go away again!” she cried onto his shoulder, and Velibor comforted her, he was unsure what to do. Maria wandered over, smiling, and took Sasha from him. “Let me put her to sleep, and then I shall explain the situation to you. Marius said he would like your help, if you are willing, he is in the great hall somewhere.”
Sasha leaped out of Maria’s arms and ran to Velibor. “Goodnight Papa!” “Goodnight little angel, sleep well” he soothed. She kissed him on the cheek and ran after Maria to the other side of the room. Velibor smiled to himself, and walked out of the little room to allow Maria some privacy with the children. At the far end of the great hall he saw Marius, and walked towards him. “What have you found, Marius?” he questioned, seeing him poking eagerly at something on the floor. Marius smiled mischievously and beckoned him to come closer. Cautiously, he stood at Marius’ side, unable to see what had caught the elderly man’s attention. Lighting a torch, he saw it. The Serbian Royal Coat of Arms was at the head of an old tapestry which had fallen from its hangings. Wrapping his scarf around his mouth to stop the dust, he motioned for Marius to stand back while he shook the dust off and lay it out. Sewn into the tapestry was the entire history of the Serbian royal family, up until King Vladan’s father. Neither Vladan nor Marco had been added, but at the very bottom had been sewn an image of an angel, foretold as the saviour of Serbia. For some reason, the angel seemed to hold an exact likeness to Antonya.
“Young Velibor,” Marius said, drawing him out from his thoughts “as a child, I bet no doubts that you heard the old tale of the saving angel?” Velibor nodded. That is what he’d just been thinking about. Oh how, especially now in this time of war, did Serbia need their saviour. Tracing the outline of the angel, Velibor slowly began to notice that the angel also could resemble Maria. The more he thought about it, the more he saw similarities between the three: the saviour, Maria and Antonya. He turned to Marius, his suspicions aroused, only to find him replaced by Maria. “Can I get  you anything? Maybe you are getting tired, it has been a long day and it is late into the…” before she could finish, Velibor cut her off. “Maria, are you related to the Royal Family?” “What makes you ask that?” she replied cautiously. Looking away, she began to step back, but Velibor caught her arm and pulled her towards the tapestry. “Who are you exactly, Maria?”
She couldn’t find the right words to say. What could she tell him? Could she trust him? Marius could be heard walking towards them from the other side of the hall. “Maria,” Velibor growled, “Answer me!” “Do not be afraid, my dear” Marius soothed her. “He should know.” “But Father!” Velibor spun around to face her. “Father?!” he yelled “I went out of my way to help you and your children, and yet you had your Father here all along?!” Velibor began to pace up and down the room. Walking up to the top of the room, Velibor sat in the King’s throne. If I hadn’t helped them, he thought to himself, this throne could now be mine; My Queen would be sitting beside me, not with that fowl Tsarevich. Antonya would be mine, this liar doesn’t need me, my princess thinks I am dead. His head was in his hands, and he began to cry. Maria walked up to him, and sat in the Princess’ throne. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I didn’t know if I could trust you, and in these times especially someone like me needs to take every precaution they can. I’m sorry I lied to you Velibor. Will you allow me to tell you the truth?”
Velibor avoided looking at her. He was not the least bit tired anymore. He was too angry for sleep. “You have until the sun rises to convince me of your truth. At least make it worth my while.” He stated, coldly. Together they lit a fire, and she began her story.



As it grew closer to the time they were to depart, Antonya grew less and less sure about her decision. Trying their best to help hide her confusion, she found herself spending less and less time with Alexandre, Cristian and Marco finding things to keep them apart. She dreaded each meal, sitting at the top of the table next to him. The awkward before dinner conversation, the awkward post-dinner dance or walk with him. The Tsar and Tsarina seemed to know that something was up, and were making very little effort to conceal their joy at the Serbian Princess’ decision to travel with them. Time seemed to slow down, the nearer they grew to departure. After what felt like an eternity, Antonya found herself watching the sunset on her last day in Moscow, out on the balcony in Cristian’s room.
Alexandre, Cristian, Marco and Antonya sat outside in silence in the freezing cold on the balcony. The sun drew a blood red outline on the clouds in the sky, and the Tsarina’s voice pierced the stillness of the evening “Alexandre come at once!” He sat back in his chair, savouring the last of his vodka. “ALEXANDRE!” he put his glass down in defeat. Leaning over, he kissed Antonya. “My Princess, I love you with the greatest love known to the world. Good night and sleep well. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.” She walked him to the door of Cristian’s room, and Marco called for her not to leave the room. He wanted to talk to her. She shrugged her shoulders, and hugged him one last time. “Until tomorrow, my love” she whispered in his ear.
She closed the door quietly, and leant against it. It was so hard. She loved him, but what if this was a direct threat on her life. What if she really did end up losing the throne of Serbia to these deceitful monarchs, all because she fell in love, and was blinded by this. She loved Alexandre, but not for what he is. Silent tears traced little streams down her cheeks.  She fell against the door and just sat there, her back facing the door to the balcony, the wood of the door felt so strong and reassuring against her forehead and right hand. Her left hand lay on her lap, her tears landing like soft raindrops on her fingers.
Marco stood a few steps behind her. Cristian walked in and closed the door softly. He sat on the edge of the bed. Marco sat on the floor next to Antonya. Once again there was silence. There was a knock at the door. Antonya didn’t move. It was the maid coming to tend to the fire: Marco asked her to leave the wood at the door and he would do it himself later. The fire would die soon if they didn’t get any wood in it. He called three times and she didn’t move once. He started to worry. If the fire died they’d all freeze to death, so with Cristian’s help he moved her away. Marco refuelled the fire while Cristian tried everything he could possibly think of to wake up Antonya.  He poked her, he punched her, he tickled her, he blew in her ear, he pinched her and he screamed as loud as he could, but nothing worked. Marco tried too, but nothing helped.
He screamed out the door for a sentry and sent him to get the doctor from town. Cristian just looked at his cousin in shock. Marco didn’t know what to do. If anyone found out, that his own niece had collapsed in his care, especially his brother, he was doomed. Cristian put a chair next to him. “Dad, if you don’t stand still or sit, you are going to collapse just like her from stress and exhaustion. Sit. Now.” He sat. He closed his eyes, only to be awoken by the sound of someone knocking at the door. It was one of the new maids he’d just hired, bringing in a platter of food. He smelt fresh bread and his nerves began to settle down. She laid the food down on the table next to the bed, and returned with a jug of water. Her apron was too big for her, and as she approached the table she tripped on it, pouring the whole jug of water over the inanimate princess. Cristian began to scream at her, Marco walked over with his hand raised ready to strike her. Antonya sat up and looked around.
It felt like time had stopped. A maid was on her knees in front of her, with her head bowed, crying. Uncle Marco stood like a monster just above the maid, ready to hit her. Cristian was standing at the foot of the bed, the hem of his pants wet, mouth wide open like he was hurling abuse at her. She was soaking wet. She stood up and went near the fire. They seemed frozen.
Cristian fell quiet. Marco lowered his hand and the maid bowed her head in tears. Antonya helped her up. ‘I think you shall be my maid’ she stated, conclusively. Marco stared at her in surprise, but said nothing against this. Cristian walked out to the balcony, attempting to clear his thoughts with the cold, crisp night air. This was definitely getting more and more dangerous. Antonya was so unpredictable, the Tsar and Tsarina couldn’t be trusted; Alexandre had no idea of anything that was going on, Marco wasn’t thinking straight and he knew that he himself would be in trouble once they reached Russia. A wolf cried out somewhere in the distance and Cristian longed to cry out with it.
Antonya walked out to join him. Cristian turned to face her and she ran into his arms crying. ‘Cristian I shouldn’t have done this. This is a mistake, I shouldn’t travel with them, and I shouldn’t be forcing you and Uncle Marco to have to travel with us, to leave your lives here, just to take care of me. I’m sorry’ she whispered. Antonya’s maid came out with her cloak and put it around her shoulders. Cristian sighed and hugged her. ‘Antonya, we’ll get through this’ he soothed. Marco’s distant voice could be heard, giving instructions to Antonya’s new maid in preparation for the journey tomorrow. The door opened and closed several times. She slowly moved away from him, turning to lean on the balcony. ‘Things will turn out for the better Antonya, I’m sure of it’ he offered, placing his hand gently on her back. After some time, she turned her head to face him, searching for truth in his eyes.
Marco understood that Antonya and Cristian were troubled, but if things kept up like this he knew that trouble would quickly befall them. The Tsar would notice all too soon that they were to some extent aware of what his plans were. The stay must not be a long one, he thought to himself. He walked out onto the balcony, and kissed the foreheads of both Cristian and Antonya. ‘Make sure you get some rest’ he cautioned them. ‘The journey ahead is one that will require us to be fully awake and on our feet. Rest well.’ He motioned for Antonya’s maid to come forward, and he left the room. ‘Guess I better go then, cousin’ she sighed. He looked at her, unsure of what to say next. ‘Goodnight’ ‘And also to you princess’ he replied. ‘Ride with me tomorrow in my carriage, not with Alexandre, I need to discuss certain things with you’ he called after her. ‘I had intended on doing so, Cristian. See you tomorrow.’
Antonya called for her maid to bring her things and to meet her in her room. The maid walked towards Cristian’s bed to pick up her gloves. Cristian came inside and stood watching her. ‘What is your name, maid?’ She looked up at him with a shy smile. ‘I am Sara’ she mumbled, her eyes returning to the ground. There was something about her. She had long dark hair, dark brown eyes that seemed to shine like stars, her skin had a light colour to it. ‘May I go, sire?’ she asked quietly. ‘Oh, I am sorry, Sara. I will see you tomorrow.’ ‘Goodnight’ ‘Yes, have a goodnight, Sara. And good luck with Princess Antonya.’
Sara ran down the many corridors to Antonya’s room. She burst into the room. ‘Your highness I am sorry I am late’ she breathed heavily, only to find the princess changed and in bed. ‘Do not worry about it’ she smiled. ‘I like to dress myself, and was already feeling very tired. ‘That is all well then, your highness. Is there anything else I can do for you?’ ‘Call me Antonya when we are alone, ok? I hope I can trust you. I asked for you to be my maid more because I wanted a friend, than needed a servant, so call me Antonya please.’ ‘Yes, Antonya, your highness; I will try to be a great friend to you, and serve your every need.’ ‘Thankyou Sara’ she sighed. ‘You should get some res t yourself, tomorrow will be along day, and I can imagine Marco will be in a grave mood. There is a spare bed in the antechamber; it is where my old maid used to sleep, if you wish to sleep there.’ ‘I have nowhere else to sleep Antonya, if you don’t mind me staying there while I serve you?’ ‘Of course! We shall talk more in the morning.’
Sara drew the curtains and picked up the clothes Antonya had discarded on the floor. After placing them in the wardrobe, she walked into the antechamber and prepared herself for sleep. Tomorrow began a new journey, and she would need all her strength to keep her new mistress’s mind at ease.



They had made good progress. Velibor stood watch by the window of an old barn they had stopped in for the night. He had learnt the lady’s name was Maria. They were at the top of a hill, and once they were over it they would be decently safe for the night. Watching the distant war brought back memories of Antonya. He felt the need to cry, but couldn’t. He must be strong for this family, and help them to safety. Just then Maria walked up behind him and brought him a little blanket. She offered him some food and he ate gladly. She was good company, he thought. She knew that things were not okay, yet asked no questions. She understood.

Maria caught Velibor smiling at her, and laughed at him. “Velibor, are you getting tired? I will take watch if you want.” He smiled back, only just realising what he was doing. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. I have a bad habit of that. Can’t sleep?” They smiled in agreement, and conversation flowed like that for a long time. Soon the sun rose, and no sooner did the children. They ate quickly and began their journey again.

He avoided the main road, as the further they travelled, the more people came up to them and asked to borrow one of the horses. But Velibor needed to move the family away and fast. He wanted to help everyone, but it was just not possible. They rode through many fields, barely stopping in case someone caught up on them and took a horse. By lunchtime they were over the hill and a fair distance from it. They were approaching a fairly large town, and decided to stop there for the night. It was then that Velibor realised he had no money. He turned to Maria, but she had nothing either.

The children looked at them, wondering what was going on, when Velibor noticed the little boy sitting with him was playing with something. “What are you playing with there?” The little boy laughed and emptied his pocket. The other children took out a few coins each as well. There was enough money to find them a place for tonight, and a few other things. Velibor had the biggest smile on his face, thinking of all the things he could do himself with that money, when it suddenly dawned on him that they had no idea where this money came from. “Bato, where did you find this?” Maria said sternly to her son. “You put us in sleep and we got it mummy” he replied instantly, smiling at his mother. “Mum,” Elena, her oldest daughter spoke up “The hay that you told us to sleep in, we moved it around to make it more comfortable for us, and these coins started falling out. So while you were talking to Mr. Velibor, we went in turns to check the whole barn for money. We found lots, but couldn’t bring all of it, so we split it up into our pockets, carrying as much as we could, and we buried the rest.”

Elena was maybe only eight years old. She was the oldest of all the children here. And the leader. If she did something, they did it too. Slowly she began to empty all of the coins that she had hidden, and the other children did too. Velibor stopped them quickly though. “Kids, hide the extra coins you just brought out of your pockets. If anyone sees that much money here, who knows what will become of us, and everyone will charge us too much money for somewhere to stay.” He gathered the coins they already had, and together they proceeded to enter the town. Just before the first house, he turned to the family. “I know this may be uncomfortable for you, but for us to get a good place to sleep and eat, I’m going to have to pretend to be your father. So don’t call me Mr. Velibor when we get there and people are around. Is that okay? But remember, this is just pretend, and only while we’re here. Okay?” The children seemed uneasy about this, and all looked to Maria. She smiled and nodded to them, and together they entered the town.
Many of the first places rejected Velibor. Some houses were eager to take him until he mentioned that he had a wife and kids with him. He came towards the end of the main road, with things not looking too good for him. He decided to try one more house. “Maria, if this house doesn’t work, we’ll just grab something to eat and then ride out into the country and find another place to stay out there. I’m sorry children.” With a bowed head, he tried the last house. It was a very big house, double-storey, and very antique. He was pretty sure that they wouldn’t get accepted into this house.

An old man opened the front door, and was surprised to see him there. “Why hello young man! This is quite new. Usually the only visitors I receive is the town officials asking for money. What can I do for you?” Velibor smiled half-heartedly. “Me and my family, my wife and children here, we’re looking for a place to stay. We’re escaping the coming war. We can pay you, help you in any way if you need it, just please, you’re our last hope.” He was almost in tears. He really wanted to help this family, and he felt like he would fail if he couldn’t find them beds for tonight, and food as well. But the elderly man had a big smile on his face. “Company? You want to stay in my house? I’m honoured! You can stay as long as you want to! You can stay forever if need be! This big house is so lonely and sad now that I am by myself. Come inside! Please!” He held out his hand for Velibor to shake, but Velibor hugged him. The children’s faces lit up, and they all rushed inside. Stopping in the foyer, they were amazed at the first sights of the house. “I’m sorry it’s not very clean. I’m old and fairly poor, I can’t afford to pay a maid anymore. I do try to clean though.”

Maria called all the children to her, and they began to talk in hushed voices. The elderly man began to talk to Velibor. “My name is Marius by the way, but you may call me whatever you wish. I am so pleased that you would come to me for help. Would you like to see your rooms?” He led them a grand staircase and onto the second level of the house. “This level” he said, opening his arms “is all yours.” “But what about you Mr. Marius? Where will you sleep?” Marius laughed at Maria. “Darling, I live downstairs. I am too old to walk up and down these stairs everyday. So this is all for you.” The children laughed and ran to the bedrooms, inspecting each one. They settled down, and then slowly one by one poured down the stairs to see Maria in the kitchen. She had begun cleaning up, and Elena called the children to follow suit. Marius had gone to have a midday rest. When he woke an hour later, the house was shining and spotless, and wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen. Maria had begun to cook up a late lunch with what there was in the kitchen. Velibor, on the other hand, had gone into town to find out news about the war.

He walked into the first pub he saw, expecting to see some people there that would help him. He walked up to the bar, and began to talk to a man there. He didn’t know much, except for the fact that there was a senior messenger of the king staying in one of the inns on the other side of the town, and he was refusing to give information. Other than that, everyone knew the same thing: Serbia was slowly losing the war.

He walked through town slowly, trying to learn more things and see what was going on. Not much was happening. Just many people worried about losing land, animals property and crops. He was almost towards the other end of the town, when an old lady standing in her doorway called out. “Velibor, Velibor! Is that really you Velibor?” She grabbed his arm and pulled him into her house. He didn’t recognise her the slightest bit, and she could tell. “You don’t remember me, do you?” He shook his head, and she laughed. “I’m Carol. I was Princess Antonya’s made until she left for Russia. I do not believe it, that you don’t remember me!” he smiled, but was deeply hurt at the thought of Antonya. He was dieing to know how she was. So he asked her, and they sat there for a very long time, telling stories. He learnt how Antonya had not smiled since she had heard news of Velibor’s supposed death in the war, and in general her depression. His heart broke at this news. But what iced the cake of his pain was hearing how she was rumoured to be courting the Tsarevich. Velibor’s heart shattered, and he could feel his eyes burning with tears. Carol offered him dinner, or something to drink, but he felt the sudden need to run. He promised Carol he would return soon and they could talk more, but he had to leave. Walking through the door, as soon as she was out of sight, he ran, and he ran for ages. He entered the house, and things didn’t feel right here anymore, but he ignored it. He ran up to the room he shared with Bato (who insisted on sleeping with him after their journey together) and collapsed on the bed. The tears were burning his eyes as they fell to the sheets. He wanted to rip his heart out and burn it, to die, to leave this world. But even then he had nowhere to go. He lay there for a long time, letting his tears burn rivers into his cheeks, his heart beat and bruise his chest.

Eventually, the tears stopped flowing. He felt dead and empty inside, weak and hopeless. With a defeated spirit, he walked downstairs to find Maria and the children. But no one was there. He walked all throughout the house, his heart starting to come to life as he realised things weren’t right here. There was no smell of cooking or cooked food, no dishes left from dinner or lunch. He ran upstairs to check the rooms, and none of the beds had been touched. He found another door and followed that, wondering what could be there, but there were only more stairs. They lead to an attic, but no one was in there. He began to search it, looking through various things for any sign of where they had gone, when he barely heard the sound of a door handle closing. Looking in the direction from whence it came, he saw a small door concealed by boxes, and ran up to it. ‘the rest of the house is empty’ he thought ‘so here goes!’

Making sure the door wasn’t locked, he closed it gently, only to see little Bato standing in front of him. “You take too long Mr. Velibor!” He looked at where he was. It was like an indoor jungle, one of the most beautiful gardens he had seen. Suddenly, in the corner of his eye, he saw Bato disappear through the trees, and he ran after him. It was like a maze. Running in and out of the trees, through bushes, under fallen trees and over small bridges, then finally Bato stopped. “You have to be really quiet” he whispered “and watch your head, or its going to get very hurt.” He pulled Velibor to his knees, and made him sit down. Then he pushed him very hard. It was like a slide, and it wouldn’t stop. Velibor was worried if Bato had followed him, or if he was just a pigment of his imagination. But sure enough, he was behind him. And just as he saw him, a branch hit him across the head. “Keep your head to the ground Mr. Velibor!” He whispered, laughing as Velibor rubbed his head. After what seemed an eternity, they reached the end, and he just sat there, rubbing his head. Bato frowned at him, and pulled him to his feet. “Mr Velibor, if you don’t hurry up, we are going to miss dinner, and mummy doesn’t like it when I’m late. Come on!” Velibor chuckled and got up, following Bato. They ran through some more trees and bush, until Bato stopped. Velibor wasn’t paying attention, and kept running, going straight into him. Bato laughed, brushed off the dirt on his otherwise spotless clothes, and laughed at Velibor, sitting there on the floor, covered in mud. “Mummy doesn’t like dirty people to eat her dinner. You’re gonna be in big trouble Mr Velibor.” He closed Velibor’s eyes and held his hand, walking him slowly through the forest. Velibor had come to realise that they were no longer in the garden in Marius’ house. They stopped walking, and Velibor heard the sound of a door opening. He was walking on stone now, form what he could guess, and started to worry that he had trusted a demon, that maybe he was going mad. A light breeze blew, and it started to get lighter from what he could see through his blindfold. The ground he was walking on started to feel broken and unsteady, but Bato didn’t slow down. He began to walk faster. Another door opened, and a great noise met his ears. “Mr Velibor” whispered Bato quietly, pulling him down so he could untie his blindfold “we are here.”


Antonya walked through the corridor and down into the courtyard. Cristian had told her to go and spend time with Alexandre. She walked into the courtyard, and stood just behind where she thought he was sitting, wondering what to say. What to do. She began to shiver a little in her thin dress as a light shower started. His arms wound around her, and she jumped with his touch. She hadn’t expected him to be behind her, but she settled into his arms anyway. He was so warm. He hugged her tightly, and began to kiss her hair. “I’m sorry, Antonya, I really am, if it was my fault you were upset. I didn’t want to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you. I’m sorry.”

She said nothing, only turned around and hid in his arms. “I’m sorry too Alexandre. I… I… I guess I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.” She began to cry in his arms, finding safety in the strength of his embrace. She wanted to stay like this with him forever. He stroked her hair. The rain started to get stronger so they moved just under the cover of the corridor.

Cristian was in shock. After everything, he had trusted them so much, believed every word they said, and all they really wanted was the Serbian throne. He was angry. Running to Antonya’s room, he realised he wouldn’t find her there, so he walked passed the courtyard. They seemed so happy together, and it seemed to help him feel even more isolated. Surely Marco had heard everything too, yet all he did was shoot Cristian the kind of look that spells ‘you-are-dead-when-this-is-finished’. He thought of all people, his own father would have understood. He would have to tell Antonya some other day, but how to tell her? Oh, he didn’t know. He ran to his room. He sat outside on his balcony that faced towards the busy city below. In the sky above the sun was slowly setting, painting new colours in the sky on the clouds. A soothing calm began to take over him, and he felt like himself again.

He sat there for a long time, thinking, as he watched the sun set. Moscow was supposed to be a break for Antonya, not another nightmare after everything that had happened. He didn’t know how to tell her, but he had to warn her about Gatchina. The bells started to ring for dinner, but he didn’t want to go. How could he ever be in the same room as those treacherous, deceptive, lying cheats again? His heart began to burn for revenge again, and he decided to stay put in his room. If he was hungry, he could always go and visit Andrei later. It started to get very cold outside, so Cristian walked indoors and sat on his bed, staring out the window. Eventually, he ended up falling asleep there.

Antonya and Alexandre had made it to dinner, after much debate about whether they should leave or not, but Alexandre’s hunger won. They ate quickly, but something was wrong in the room. It felt awkward to be sitting there. Marco was eating quietly, not making much conversation, and the Tsar and Tsarina were being obnoxiously loud. The rest of the room was filled with hushed whispers, and that’s when Antonya realised what was missing. Cristian was not there. It wasn’t like him to miss out on dinner, he loved food. She caught Marco’s eye, wanting to figure out if he knew anything, but he smiled vaguely and returned to his food.

After dinner, she was talking quietly to Alexandre, when Marco walked up. “Marco, I’m terribly sorry, but do you mind if I talk to her a while?” Alexandre smiled and squeezed Antonya’s hand. “I’ll talk to you later, or maybe tomorrow, okay?” She smiled, saying nothing in return, and left with her uncle. He escorted her on a long walk through the castle, making small talk, asking about her and how she was enjoying Moscow so far now. Soon the lights went out in the Tsar and Tsarina’s quarters, and he marched her quickly to Cristian’s room. “I’m awfully sorry Antonya, I was just waiting for them to go to sleep, and for the rest of the castle to follow suit. Help me wake up your cousin.”

She jumped on Cristian’s bed, only to get up again and close his balcony doors. It was freezing in his room. The head Butler came for a word with Marco before retiring for the night, all the fires were lit and a maid came back with dinner for Cristian, strawberries for Antonya and vodka for Marco. The princess started to worry. Her uncle hardly ever drank, unless he was very happy, or extremely worried. This didn’t seem to be a happy occasion. “So, you gonna tell her, or am I Cristian?” Cristian looked up from his food, surprised that Marco was saying this. He thought they were just having some awkward family time. “I thought you were angry at me for that…” he hinted. Marco shook his head, and they sat in silence while Cristian finished his meal. The maid came in from outside the doorway and took the empty plater away. Cristian began, and recounted to her everything that he had heard. Marco added in a few historical details about Russia, and Antonya felt sick. She walked out onto the balcony, not sure what to do. Why? She loved Alexandre. Cristian came up behind her, and stood next to her, as they leaned on the rails looking out on the nightlife of the town below. Marco stood between them, and wrapped his arms around both of them. Bursting into tears, they stood there very late into the night, consoling each other, trying to find a solution to this problem.

Antonya and Cristian stayed up all night, staring out into the stars, mostly in silence. The night was clear and the air was fresh thanks to the rain earlier in the day. She just wanted to cry, but there were no tears left. Cristian sat in silence. Occasionally, he would ask her if she was cold, and wanted to go inside. He could feel her shivering, but she refused. Eventually he got tired of just sitting there, and together Antonya and Cristian moved into his room. He didn’t want to stay there, where he was constantly able to stare out his window and see the Tsar’s quarters. Without words she understood his discomfort. Drawing the curtains wouldn’t ease the pain. They wandered around the castle to her room, and she dressed in warmer clothes and picked up a coat. They walked out of the castle gates.

Antonya had no care in the world for where they went. Her cousin was one of the only people that he had now. Velibor was dead and gone; Marco had a castle and businesses to run, he didn’t need her; her parents were never really concerned about her; and although she loved Alexandre she had to keep away from him. It just wasn’t safe anymore. From somewhere inside her tears came again. Cristian linked his arm in hers and guided her slowly through wherever they were walking. Antonya had no idea where they were now. He led her along an uphill path.

He stopped at something, but Antonya’s eyes hurt and she couldn’t tell anymore where she was or what was going on. She heard a door creak open, and was met with a freezing cold breeze. Cristian walked her in, and sat her down on something soft. She tried to rub her eyes to see what was going on, but it didn’t help. He lit a fire and sat next to his cousin. For some strange reason, Antonya felt a sudden peace being here, and an instant need to sleep. Cristian was happy. She was at peace, somewhat. This place always helped him when nothing else could. He lay her down on the small bed there, and she slept almost instantly. Sitting on a couch nearby, he stared at the fire for a long time. Alexandre was a good guy. He wasn’t like what he remembered of Velibor. He cared. He had heart. What’s more, as far as Cristian could tell, he really loved Antonya. Or, if it wasn’t love, he at least had very strong feelings for her. He never saw much of that in Velibor.

Morning light shone into the cabin, and the fire was burning slowly, yet the two that slept inside did not stir. One slept on the couch and the other slept in the bed. The sun rose a little higher in the sky, and the birds singing lost volume. Still they slept. The fire was made of slowly dying embers, and the cabin was filled with light. He walked along the path, just knowing that he would find them here. Cristian always came here when he didn’t know what to do. He walked up to the door and looked through the window. It was nearly lunchtime, and here were his two favourite people, still fast asleep. The fire was nearly dead too. Slipping through the door quietly, he sat down near the fire and sparked it up again. He opened the bag he had carried with him on the table and bought out an apple to eat, sitting on one of the chairs there.

Antonya was just starting to wake up, when she heard a door open. From the corner of her eye, she could see her cousin fast asleep on the couch opposite. The shadow moved in the door quietly. She was guessing it was a man, as he chuckled quietly to himself. She pretended to sleep. “My Princess Antonya” the shadow laughed “you are absolutely hopeless at pretending to sleep. Hungry?” A wave of relief swept over her, recognising the voice instantly. “Uncle Marco!” she almost yelled with relief, running into his arms. Cristian stirred on the couch, and got up slowly. “I was wondering when you were going to get up, Antonya. You first started moving when the first birds were singing.” he mumbled. They all sat around the table, and Marco brought out breakfast for them.

“Couldn’t sleep last night Cristian?” he asked, as they ate. “Nah, not really. I don’t know what to do about those lying, disgusting, cheating, stealing…” “Alright, alright, you eat your breakfast” Marco interrupted, realising not much had settled inside Cristian’s head. Antonya smiled though, eating heaps of food. “What is this place Marco?” “Oh.” He said, not sure where to begin. “It’s my place” Cristian jumped in “so I’ll explain it.” Not really fussed, they sat back in their chairs to listen to Cristian’s story. When he first came to Moscow, he hated it. He used to go into the woods when Marco wasn’t looking and try and run back to Serbia to be with people he knew. He found this cabin one time that he was running, and decided to stop and enter it. It was deserted and very dusty, but he cleaned it up. He stayed there for three days while Marco had people searching all over the city for him. It wasn’t until Marco decided to hike into he woods and search there himself that he found the cabin along a concealed track. He didn’t think Cristian would have been in there, but there he was, sleeping peacefully on the bed. “This place reminds me of Serbia. Remember how we used to run down to the bottom of the courtyards and play all day in the wooden cabins? I came here and I thought, wow. I’ve found a new cabin. All I have to do is get passed the forest and I’ll find the castle again.”

She walked over to the little bookshelf in the corner just next to the bed. There weren’t many books, and nothing that interested her. She noticed a few of Cristian’s books sitting there, and spare clothes for him sitting in the chest at the end of the bed. “Uncle Marco, I think that I should go to Gatchina with Alexandre.” She concluded, having just had a thought. He was surprised at this, and Cristian wasn’t sure to what think. She explained to them that they couldn’t really do much to her in Gatchina, it was so far away from Serbia, and they would have to confirm everything with her parents before they planned any sort of marriage, let alone an engagement. Cristian decided he would go to keep an eye on his cousin. Marco couldn’t commit to going, but he promised to visit often. So together they had it decided, Antonya and Cristian were in one week to leave for Gatchina with Alexandre.



Velibor and Sadif had become good friends. They had been staying together for a good week now. Velibor helped Sadif set a lot of things up around the farm, and the horses had actually started to like him. Sadif taught him how to ride, and although he was still not the best at it, Sadif thought he seemed natural at it.

Back at the castle, King Vladan was not happy. Reports had reached him of how his daughter was in Russia, and that was all well, her courting with the Tsarevich could mean great help from Russia in the war. But the war was not going too well. Ever since Princess Antonya had left for Serbia, and Velibor had died, it seemed things had spiralled downwards. He had put out the call for people to donate horses and food towards the war effort, and for more men to come forward. He’d expected some delay, but it had been three days already.

Bastian, a messenger from the king knocked on the front door of the house. It had been a long day, and he was hoping that a friendly woman would have some food for him, or at least some kind stranger to open the door and let him rest for a night there. But no, a rough looking young man opened the door. “Hey. What do you want?” “Umm, I’m a messenger from the great King Vladan, asking people to answer his call for aid in the war efforts. Donations of food, money, horses, anything useful, even men to fight are accepted. The King promises rewards for all those who offer him aid. Will you?”

Sadif stood at the door, not sure what to do. He asked Bastian to wait there for a second while he went to consult Velibor on this. “Vel, there’s a messenger from the king at the door, he wants aid for the war.” “Oh. So? Why you telling me?” Velibor started to get angry at the mention of what could have been his father- in-law. If this messenger had been around for at least the past four months, he would recognise Velibor straight away. Everyone who lived in the castle and the surrounding town knew him. Sadif saw his unease, and questioned it. “Are you still uneasy about the princess Velibor? You know, I wasn’t thinking of joining the war ourselves, and these horses are starting to get lazy from little exercise. What do you say we donate them?” There was a pause, as the idea processed in Velibor’s head. “Do you mind if I invite him in? He looks seriously tired and hungry.” Vel sighed, and realised the past was going to catch up with him sooner or later. “Yeah, I guess. If it gets too much I’ll just go to my room or something.”

Bastian was sitting on a fallen log just outside the house, throwing small pebbles from the ground across the garden. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to give up anything for this war. It must seem so unreal out here to these people. The only difference is the lack of men working in and around the fields, he thought. Not only that, but the country areas were already very poor. Not to mention the fact that if Serbia kept up the downfall the war would hit these people and towns first. They probably want to keep everything so they can make a quicker escape. Suddenly the front door opened again, breaking Bastian’s train of thought. “I bet you’re hungry, or something like that. Tired at least. Come inside and join us.” Bastian was surprised at this offer. The widows always offered, and the single mothers, but never the men. He was happy though. At least he would get some warmth and rest, and some food other than the bread and dry meat he had packed.

It was Velibor’s turn to cook, and the house smelt truly delicious. Sadif and Bastian were sitting by the fire discussing arrangements for the horses and food to be bought to the castle. Dinner was served soon after, and the trio sat in the dining room around the picture of the Serbian Royal Castle. “Isn’t he a good cook? Oh, sorry, Bastian, this is Velibor; Velibor, this is Bastian.” Sadif was laughing, enjoying his meal and the company he had, but Velibor had felt a sudden discomfort when he mentioned Bastian’s name. Something about him rang alarm bells in his head.

They finished their meal, and moved near the fireplace to talk more before bed. Velibor realised where he recognised Bastian – he was the messenger who used to run errands for Princess Antonya. Just the thought of her and his heart began to burn. Not willing to reveal himself, he stood up discreetly and excused himself from the room.

As soon as he was out of their sight he ran to his room and crashed on the bed. His eyes filled with tears as he realised how hopeless his life was to become. Forever running from representatives of the King, he would never know the life he used to have. He would never again see his darling Antonya. With that though his cries became uncontrollable, and he left the house through the door in the kitchen. It was pitch dark outside, but he didn’t care. What worse could happen to him, than the fate he had just chosen for himself? He walked aimlessly, having no idea where he was headed, until he was so weak that he collapsed in renewed tears upon the ground.

He woke, only to find himself in the middle of a strange field, not far from Sadif’s house. With swollen eyes he struggled back to the house only to find no one there. He entered the kitchen, washing his face with icy cold water. Sadif and Bastian had already eaten breakfast, but hadn’t cleaned up anything. He called out as he walked into the lounge, but no one was there. His searching became more frantic, looking in every room three to four times, calling louder and louder, trying to find them. It was a small house, where could they be? Running to his room, he threw on a coat and sprinted out to the barn to check if they were there. The horses hadn’t been fed yet, so he did that quickly, and looked around the barn for the usual signs of Sadif. His coat hung up, any of the horses coats groomed, but there was nothing. He moved back to the house, and sat in the kitchen looking for some sign of his friend. Deciding he was hungry, he moved to the cupboard to find some food. The cupboard was empty. Velibor ran to Sadif’s room and looked for the one thing that he treasured most. Aside from a few clothes missing, that was gone too.

Not a moment had passed when he began to hear screams from outside the house. Looking through the curtain, women and children were running passed the house. One woman came and knocked on the door. “I’m sorry” she said, startled that anyone had opened the door. “We are friends of Sadif, is he home?” Velibor looked at her, wondering how best to respond. “Sadif is not here” he replied softly, “he will be away for sometime. May I help you?” “Oh…” she hesitated “Maybe its better if we just go then.” “Are you sure? I am a very close friend of Sadif’s, I can help you if you want.” The lady turned around, paused, and looked at him. She had many little children around her, very anxiously looking behind her. “I.. You are not leaving to get away from the war?” Sadif froze, and everything finally clicked. A messenger must have come after breakfast, telling them to move quickly. Sadif looked at the lady. “I am not sure yet. Maybe I will help you with what you need, since I am alone. I didn’t know the war was coming. What may I help you with?” The lady broke down in tears, telling him her situation. They lived on a farm that was near the battlefield. The soldiers had killed her husband and taken the two oldest sons to fight in the war, telling her to take the children and run to safety. They had been running all night and most of the day, until she recognised Sadif’s house and sought help there. The war was quickly moving towards them, and all she was asking for was a place to hide. Sadif was rushing around the house, packing important things while she was talking. “Hmm. Sadif has no cellar here, so we will have no place safe to hide, and if the war reaches here they are sure to burn down the place. It is of no value. We must move. Quickly.”

The woman stopped pacing, and stared, thinking. “We have run all night and most of the day. We are weak, and very tired. You are best to leave us here. We will be okay.” He stopped rushing and walked to the fire place, looking for Sadif’s prized egg. He found it, but underneath it was a little note, scribbled.

Vel, sorry that I didn’t say goodbye, but the war is coming. You will read this eventually. Take whatever you need from the house and do what you have to. I trust you. Be safe my friend, hopefully we will meet again. Sadif.

Packing the egg safely in his small bag of belongings, he began towards the kitchen. Then he stopped. Looking back, he asked “Do your children know how to ride?” She was confused for a moment, but then understood. “Of course they do, except for the two youngest.” “Will you please take all the food that is of use to us and pack it in whatever bags you have brought? I’m going out for a second, I’ll be back quickly. Pack everything you need!” The woman smiled, thankful for his action in her inaction.

He came back with 5 horses, fully saddled up and ready to go. She had packed everything, and together they began saddling up the kids. He helped her onto his horse, handed her the youngest child, and jumped onto his horse pulling a young little boy to sit up with him. They galloped at full speed, Velibor doing his best to help the family. “Antonya, I’m doing this for you, I love you” he breathed into the air.