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.



Antonya returned from her session with Luis, and sat in her room, eating a fresh platter of strawberries that Andrei had brought to her room earlier. One of the dresses that she had talked about with Luis was just like the dress she had that Velibor loved. Finding a sudden desire to wear the dress, she walked to her wardrobe and pulled it out. Just as she did, something fell out of the package and onto the floor, rolling under her bed. “Oh, no way!” she exclaimed, and got down on her hands and knees to get it.

Cristian had been talking to Alexandre, and Alexandre decided he had better go and apologise to Antonya, and try and make things work again. It was his own fault, out of pure jealousy, that things had messed up. He was walking through the corridors, when he heard her cry out in anger, and began to walk a little faster. He reached the doorway, only to see dresses thrown on the floor and half of a princess under a bed.

The little package had rolled right to the other side of the bed, but the other side was against the wall, so she could not get it. She had to go right underneath the bed. Just as she got it, she heard footsteps in the doorway and she froze. Whoever it was, they were just standing there, watching her. Reaching a little further, she managed to get the package, but made no effort to move out from under the bed.

“Hey, princess. Let me help you up.” Laughing, Alexandre stood by the bed and offered a hand to help her. A wave of relief swept through Antonya, and she let him help her. Getting up, Antonya put the dresses back and laid out the one she wanted on the bed. Alexandre sat on the bed and played with the material on the dress. “It’s so soft and thin!” he said, wondering why on earth she wanted to wear this in such cold weather. She laughed, and he stepped out of the room while she changed.

“You can come back now, if you’re still there.” She called, eating strawberries again. Sitting down on the bed, she found the package and wondered where it came from. “What’s this?” Alexandre asked, taking the package from her and examining it. “Hey, isn’t this the crest of Serbia?” he said, pointing to a little gold picture on the package. “Yes,” she said, looking at it closely. “That’s the emblem of the royal Serbian goldsmith! Wow, I wonder what’s inside then?”

With excitement, she unwrapped the package carefully. There was a letter, which she folded and put inside the pocket of her dress, and the most beautiful little gold locket she had seen. There were white gold vines running along it, with rubies for flowers, and a little diamond heart in the middle. Opening it up, inside were the letters A V, ‘life is not forever but our love is eternal’ was engraved on the other side. She recognised those words from somewhere, and they filled her with a deep sadness. Alexandre took the locket from her hands and put it around her neck. The gold looked so beautiful against her pale skin. “Princess, where did you find this? It must have cost a fortune!”

She looked at Alexandre, thinking about it for a while, ‘Oh! It’s from that dress on the bed. It must have been in the pocket of the dress.” She looked at the dress, and instantly remembered. “Velibor” she whispered, and buried her face in the dress. Tears were welling up in her eyes but she didn’t want Alexandre to see. He put his arm around her and stroked her face.

“Antonya” he soothed, and she wrapped her arms around him. “I missed you so much” he breathed into her ear. She didn’t know what to do. Just as she thought life was over with Velibor and that she actually might finally move on from him, he comes creaming back into her life. Alexandre sensed her tension, and held her tight. She buried her head in his chest, but refused to cry in his presence. “Antonya” he whispered “you know that i’m always here for you. Things are twisted now, but I love you. You know that now don’t you?”

With tear-filled eyes she looked at Alexandre. He was so sweet, so pure, and she didn’t want to hurt him. She knew she would. Every man that had ever tried to court her had ended up hurt in someway or another. She could just see the hurt that would be in his eyes, th epain he would feel – no matter what she did. He held her, scared of her uncertainty and silence. She didn’t know what to do.

Cristian was walking around the courtyards, looking for Alexandre. He was so bored, and badly in need of something to pre-occupy his time. He sat on the bench and began to think. He had just finished explaining Antonya to Alexandre. Then he disappeared to go eat, and Cristian hadn’t seen him since. He ran to Antonya’s room. At least if he’s not there, he thought to himself, I’ll have Antonya to annoy.

Alexandre and Antonya were sitting together in silence in her room. Cristian came running around the corner and stopped just before the doorway to catch his breath. He walked in slowly, and sat on the other chair opposite them. The silence became awkward, and Cristian didn’t know what to do. Alexandre was fidgeting with his fingers, and Antonya was playing with the necklace around her neck. “Haven’t seen that one before” Cristian inquired, breaking the silence. Antonya looked at him, and looked at Alexandre, pleading with them to leave her alone silently.

“Hey Alexandre, can you give us a second please?” Cristian asked, standing up and walking towards Antonya. Looking puzzled, but accepting the order, Alexandre stood. “Umm, if you need me,” he began “I’ll, uh, I’ll umm...I’ll be with my mother preparing for Gatchina.” He walked out quickly, and closed the door silently behind him. As soon as he went Antonya burst into tears.

“It’s from Velibor.” She cried, before Cristian could say anything. He studied her, trying to figure out if this was true. “Wasn’tVelibor dead?” he said, after a while. “Yes, but he gave it to me before I left, slipping it into the pocket of my dress the last time I saw him. I had forgotten! How can I love Alexandre when i know that I’m going to break his heart? Cristian! Why am I like this? Why is it that no one understands fully?” holding her face in her hands, she began to cry uncontrollably. Cristian put an arm around her shoulder, and moved her towards the window. She sat on the ledge, still crying, only to see Alexandre sitting there in the courtyard below. Bursting into tears again, she ran to Critstian. “See? I’m killing him! Look at the sadness that’s in his eyes now! Every man I’ve ever loved has had the same look! I’m killing! Cristian, please, kill me before I commit murder again! I can’t take it anymore. I love him too much.” He held her tightly, stroking her hair. “Cousin, if you love him you’ll live for him. Velibor is causing you pain. Let me take this neckalce from you, and I’ll look after it for a while. For now, love Alexandre. He cares so much for you, and right now that’s what you need. Cousin, please, promise me you’ll smile?”

He let go of her, and she stared at him. “Cristian, if anything happens, you know what I will end up doing!” He pulled the handkerchief from one of his pockets and held it out for her. “Dry your eyes and go and join him. He needs you, and though you may refuse to accept it, you need him too.” Wiping her eyes, she walked out to meet Velibor.

Cristian held the necklace, wondering what to do. Something was about to happen, and he was unsure about the turns it would take. His thoughts began to drift off about the possible events, wondering throughout the castle. He found himself just outside the library, when the Tsar and Tsarina could be heard talking near-by. “Antonya” the Tsar whispered “is the perfect tool to our conquer of Serbia! How long have my fathers strived to conquer, yet I will be the first! All because my good for nothing son has decided he wants to court with no one less than the Serbian crown princess! My darling, this is beautiful!”

"Indeed, but the only way we shall acheive this is by allowing the relationship to florish. I think we should bring her to Gatchina! Alexandre has already asked me to talk with you about this. He really wants her to come. He said he would stay here with Marco if things don't work out." The Tsar went silent, and Cristian was fuming. He was just about to begin his search of Marco, but the Tsar started again. "Oh, I don't know what Marco would say about that, and despite the fact that we are the rulers of Russia, I have a feeling that Marco will say no." "Hmm" thought the Tsarina.

Just then Marco came up behind Cristian, clearing his throat as a warning to him. The Tsar and Tsarina stopped abruptly, and Cristian sprinted in the opposite direction to find his cousin. What have I done?, he thought to himself, now more sure than ever of what direction he and Antonya must take.



He wasn’t dead. No one had shot him. He stood against a tree, on the far side of the field, watching the battle continue in front of him. His heart was cold to the world now, he himself feeling emotionless. “My battle is not here, and so I will not fight” he stated, though who was listening was unsure. Turning his back, he walked towards the road in the distance.

Velibor followed the road, not sure where he would end up. Anywhere was good as long as it had no memory, no connection with Antonya. Without eating, he walked on through the slow day, stopping for nothing. His only companions – his empty mind and broken heart. Eventually night came, but he felt that he could not stop, almost like if he did, everything would come and find him, and he would not be able to cope. Soon the cold became too much, and noticing a barn in a field not far away, he headed there and slept in its shelter. Dreams of Antonya kept him warm.

Who knows how long he slept for, but when he awoke the day seemed late. He was lying in a picturesque field, like he had woken up in one of the royal paintings. Not far away the sounds of cattle could be heard.

“Hey!” someone called gently from behind him. Velibor froze, not sure what to do. The last thing he wanted was for someone to find him, let alone be near him. A hand tapped his shoulder and Velibor noticed that there was alight blanket covering him. “Did you sleep well? I woke early to see the horses – they were uneasy all night no thanks to a stranger sleeping right outside their barn. Hungry?” With a warm smile, he held out a piece of bread for him, and Velibor took it gratefully, not realising how hungry he was.

“Thankyou, truly, but I don’t deserve this.” He said sadly, eyes downcast. He was standing now, and his eyes rose and met with the stranger’s. He had kind, hazel eyes, and messy blonde hair. He was well built, so Velibor assumed he must have been the farmer here, or something like that. Maybe the farm hand, for he looked young, maybe only just a little bit older than himself. “I’m Sadif, by the way. I live here. Lived here my whole life. I hope you’ll stay awhile, cause it gets really lonely here sometimes, except when people come to buy horses. What’s your story?”

Velibor looked at him, contemplating the thought of staying a while with Sadif. He as a simple man, Velibor concluded, but there was something there that reminded him of home. He felt comfortable with him. “I’m Velibor, not that it matters much what happened before. I’m suffering from a broken heart, to no fault of my own, and that has brought me here.” He paused, thoughts of Antonya passing through his mind. “You don’t mind if I stay here a bit do you?” he added, after a few moments, and Sadif’s approval showed his massive smile.

They walked across the field, Velibor carrying his few belongings and Sadif singing what sounded like a joyful song. “Is all this yours, Sadif?” Velibor asked, out of curiosity. “Yeah, sure. My father died when I was young, and my mother died three years ago. Father was famous for his horses, you know. I wish I knew how he did it though. But yeah. All of this is mine.” Sadif seemed to have quieted down, after talking about his family. “Sorry,” Velibor offered, and they walked through the door of his house.

The house was not big, but it wasn’t small. There were three bedrooms, a decent kitchen, a living room and dining room. It was really clean and well kept. “This is a nice house Sadif!” Velibor exclaimed. It was a far cry from the castle, but the only other houses he had been in other than this were the peasant houses that brimmed the outside of the city. He was impressed. Walking up to the mantelpiece just above the fireplace, Velibor’s eyes were caught by a small, decorated little egg. “That” Sadif said, glad Velibor was interested in it “was a present from my Uncle. He lives in the city. My last relative. He gave it to me the Easter after mother died.”

He took the egg from Velibor’s hands and opened it carefully, revealing an inside lined with what looked like silk. He pulled out a small photo frame, and inside was a painting of one of the most beautiful women Velibor had ever seen. “That’s her when she was younger, just after she married my father.” He fingered with the picture for a moment, before catching himself and replacing it inside the egg. He gave it back to Velibor, and disappeared around a corner. The detail on the egg was so intricate and fine!

Placing the egg back down gently, Velibor went in search of Sadif, to inquire about food. He was starving. He walked through all the rooms, knocking first, but could not find Sadif anywhere. Walking through the house one last time to look for him, he decided that Sadif must have been outside. He walked back to the barn, where he had first met Sadif, and walked inside. “Sadif?” he called out. He walked halfway, and then decided he had better just go back to the house.

He walked into the kitchen, and began searching cupboards for a cup. Eventually he found one, but just then a big came through the front door of the house. “Hello?” Velibor called cautiously, walking towards the door. A burst of laughter came from outside the door, and Velibor found Sadif doubled over on the floor in laughter. Looking at him strangely, Velibor walked back into the kitchen and finished his drink.

“Sorry,” Sadif just managed, in between bursts of laughter “It’s just that the last time I invited someone to come into my house and stay with me they stole from me. So I wanted to be sure that I could trust you. That’s all. But hey! Your one funny guy! I was standing in the field, just outside the house, and I watched you walk to the barn all worried, then come back to the house…you’re one seriously funny guy Velibor!” he paused for a breath, and began to calm down.

Velibor smiled, and followed Sadif as he showed him to his room. “It’s not exactly the best room in the world, but its not too bad” he said as he opened the door, but Velibor froze with shock. There was a big window against one wall, a bed in the corner opposite, a wardrobe at the back of the room, and a beautiful, soft rug on the floor. It was almost just like his room back at the castle, just without a fireplace. Sadif saw how pleased he was, and he was happy. “I’ll leave you to it then, and I’ll go get us something to eat!”

Velibor sat down on the bed. He loved this room, but it reminded him so much of Princess Antonya. Must there be a reminder of her in everything he did? Must every memory he had of her be linked with other things, so much that every waking minute as spent living memories of her? He lay back on his bed, and reached for the letter she had written him. “All I want is to be close to you again, Antonya. All those months I wasted, using you for selfish reasons, when I could have loved you like I do now. Oh, Antonya, I’m sorry. I want you to hear me, I do, but I don’t think you’ll ever want to see me again. Antonya I love you” he whispered, holding the letter to his lips. Folding it back up, he unpacked his things and laid them out in the room. All he needed was clothes now.

Sadif came back a few hours later, after having done some other work as well, and together they ate in the dining room. “It’s funny,” Sadif said “how all these years I’ve lived in this house I’ve never eaten a meal in this room before.” Velibor was surprised. He himself was not used to dining in a room like this but more in a banquet hall, but he concluded he liked this much better. “It’s a nice room though” Velibor replied. There was a beautiful painting of the west wall of the castle, with the beautiful oak tree and the bright flower beds. The painting must have been completed in Autumn. Velibor felt tears well up in his eyes, and he rested his head in his arms on the table and began to cry.

Velibor sat there for sometime, and Velibor cleared the table. He refilled their glasses with wine, and together they moved by the fireplace and sat in silence together. “I’m so sorry,” Velibor said eventually. “It’s just that the picture of the castle in the other room? Well…” and Velibor began to tell him everything as they sat there by the fire, tears falling from his eyes.



She sat on her bed, with the fresh strawberries she had picked. Andrei had washed them, but noticed she was pale and sent her to her room to rest. She felt so cold, so alone, despite the fire being on. Changing her dress, she walked up to the window and sat on the window’s ledge. She picked up a strawberry, and took a bite. “I can’t do this anymore!” she screamed, throwing the strawberry out of the window to the courtyard below. Throwing her head back against the frame of the window, staring into the sky, she stared straight at the sun daring it to hurt her. Tears of anger, frustration and failure fell from her eyes. She sat there, crying, unable to move. Marco came into her room, having been walking passed the courtyard when she had screamed. He ran to the window and held her tight, scared to let her free. She cried and cried in his arms, finally enjoying the company of a friend who didn’t want to just court her and make love. Someone who loved her as a friend and cared truly.

Marco held her, wondering what to do. She was so happy just a few days ago, really enjoying life, and now here she was, crying uncontrollably in his arms. He stroked her hair. “Antonya, what’s wrong? Please, stop crying and talk to me!” he soothed, trying to calm her. She stopped crying, but refused to speak, burying her head even further into his chest. He began to search for reasons why she would be like this, and then it hit him. She had been so close to Alexandre the day she got over her depression, and they were talking and connecting like they had been best friends forever. She had not been around him lately, as he had been totally engrossed in helping Cristian show Vladimir around the castle. Something has happened, I’ll bet, he thought to himself. “Is it that boy?” he asked her, vowing to punish him if it was. Thinking that Marco was referring to Vladimir, she nodded her head, and cried again. “Marco, why is life like this? Why is it that I want friendship, when they want love, and then when I want to love them, they leave, ashamed to be near me? Is there something wrong with me that men only want one thing from me? I didn’t mean to, Marco, I honestly didn’t mean it! Mother and Father never accepted him, and maybe it was their hatred that rubbed off on me. I love Velibor, and he loved me. But he’s gone now, and I’ve got to move on, and I tried I did!” with one hand she wiped her eyes, and gathered her dress to stand up. Marco lifted her up off the bed and helped her to stand up. “Marco, this is my fault, and I’m the one that broke his heart. Why did i do it? I bet you regret offering to bring me to Moscow, for all I’ve done is sulk in my bedroom, living in the past. I’m sorry.”

Marco looked at her, and decided he would talk to Cristian and Alexandre later. But then and there, he decided it was time to treat his beautiful niece. “Antonya, it is nearing the mark of your third week here in Moscow, and not once have I taken the time to show you around the city, take you to town or show you properly around this castle. Luis, the tailor, is due to arrive soon, so we will spend some time with him, and then tomorrow, I promise you, we will go into town and I will show you around. Maybe later we will travel to St Petersburg and visit the Tsar’s palace. When they travel to Moscow, they stay with me, but I tell you they have the most beautiful castle! For now though, to the library! Luis is waiting for you. That’s why I first came.” He lifted up her chin, and looked into her eyes. His niece was truly the most beautiful girl. He kissed her cheek lightly and left her room.

Walking through the corridors, Marco past by the main courtyard, and saw the three boys standing there, watching something on the ground. Walking up, he noticed an unusual amount of ants and flies near their feet. Stopping just behind Cristian, he screamed at them. “Just who do you think you are, young men! This is disgraceful, the way you are entertaining yourselves and spending your time!” he yelled at the top of his voice. The boys jumped and ran as fast as they could, all glancing behind them to see who they were running from. Vladimir was truly scared, but Alexandre and Cristian stopped as soon as they saw him. “Honestly, father, that isn’t funny” Cristian laughed as he walked back with Alexandre. Vladimir followed behind, still scared, not knowing what to expect. Marco was bent over with laughter, having enjoyed every minute of scaring the boys. “Cristian, I wish to speak with you now. The rest of you boys I will enjoy the company of later. Enjoy your day!”

Marco walked through the corridors of the castle, winding his way to the south wall. Together they climbed the wall and walked along it. They stopped at the watch tower (Marco had it built to please the Tsar) and sat there on the wall. “Marco!” Cristian called, but Marco didn’t hear. “Father!” he yelled “why are we here?” Cristian said, sounding annoyed. Marco looked at him, and Cristian sensed immediately that something was wrong. “Marco, what’s wrong? It’s Antonya, isn’t it? She has not been around the castle for days. Or at least I haven’t seen her.” “That’s because she’s been with Andrei in the kitchen. You know how much she loves talking to him, and I fear it will get her into trouble one day.” Marco turned to face the forests beyond the walls of the castle, while Cristian stared at him. “Father, maybe it has something to do with Alexandre.” He admitted eventually, not sure if it was the right thing to say. “What do you mean, maybe? I think it has everything to do with him! I saw how close they were that night when we had the welcoming banquet for his family. They spent so long together out in the courtyard, and she was seen returning to her room with his jacket. And not long ago Ivan the Gardener and I were talking, and he told me of how she had been strawberry picking with that young man that you bought to the castle just recently. What was his name again?”

“Vladimir” Cristian sighed, realising that not one friend he had that he introduced to Antonya would not fall in love with her. Marco looked at him, not sure what to think.
“Father, I think this has nothing to do with either of the boys, but more how she has chosen to deal with what comes to her! Look at how she treated Alexandre! They met, staring out of windows, in the pouring rain; the next day she’s carrying his jacket around like it was some ancient priceless artefact; then only for me and Vladimir to walk in on them both in her room, Alexandre putting on his coat and she fixing her hair!” Marco had not heard this yet, and was astonished. “They have….?” He drifted off, not sure what to think. His head was swimming in all directions, and he was not sure of what to think. He loved his niece, but this was too much for him.

“Wait,” Cristian said, something just coming to light in his mind. “What started you worrying about her? Why did you purposely step out of your way to find Alexandre and I and request a moment?” He looked at Marco, studying his face, searching for the answer that he had already guessed. “Cristian I….. I…” He stuttered, not sure what to stay. He looked around trying to find the right words to say. If he told Cristian that he had found Antonya crying uncontrollably in her room and sought to punish the cause of her grief, how would Cristian feel? Not knowing what to do, he just told him the truth.

“Cristian….I….” he began slowly “I was walking through the corridors as I always do when I am thinking, and I thought of Antonya after walking through the library and meeting with Luis. She is there now with him.” He looked at Cristian, feeling that he wasn’t listening to anything that was being said. “Why did you stop, Marco? I am listening you know” he stated, feeling more and more annoyed at him. “Sorry, Cristian, but I feel you know something I do not, and I wish you to tell me otherwise I’m holding Alexandre responsible. Life is hard for everyone, Cristian, and believe it or not I feel her pain.”

Cristian froze, instantly remembering all those stories Marco used to entertain him with when he was younger – the prince who fell in love but his heart was broken because the princess fell in love with his brother upon meeting him; the story of the little boy whose parents loved him less – but he turned out to be a great man; all of it – it was Marco’s life.

Marco had tears in his eyes and Cristian hugged him. “I’m so sorry Marco, that I never saw from the start why you connected with her so well – you know her pain!” Marco felt a little ease, but his pain was far from gone. “Thankyou Cristian, but I never wanted you to know” he said quietly. Cristian looked up, and explained in detail how Vladimir loved Antonya, right from the first time he met her at the castle back in Serbia until now. Marco was furious. “that’s why” Cristian finished off “Alexandre hasn’t been near Antonya all this time – he’s jealous, thinking that Antonya enjoys his company more – considering Vladimir’s always there.”

“Cristian, I think it was a bad idea for you to bring him here. I think we can find suitable accommodation for him with one of the older castle maids, but I refuse to have him in my castle any longer. His love for her is stalker-like.” Marco gave Cristian a quick hug and walked away from him, down towards the castle.

Vladimir was with Luis when Antonya arrived there, but he didn’t notice her. She waited in the doorway until he had left through the opposite door, and then she entered. “Antonya, your highness!” exclaimed Luis, upon seeing her “I am so honoured that you have requested me to ‘tailor’ to your needs!” she smiled, he laughed, and then he led her away to begin his work.



Antonya left Serbia with tears in her eyes. She had not seen Velibor since the day they had returned to that courtyard, and her heart called for him. She searched for him whenever she could find time. Marco noticed and tried to help her move on, but her heart wouldn’t budge. He stood on the roof of the castle, crying uncontrollably, watching her leave. “Fate is fate, and you can’t escape it” exclaimed the unmistakable voice of the general behind him. “What are you doing here?” he stated, feeling emotionless towards the general. “I have my orders, young Velibor, and Queen Ann has demanded that you be on your way to battle, to do your country proud by the end of the week. You have all of, umm…hmm…three days to get ready.” He laughed, and walked away, leaving this to sink in with Velibor.

He sat on the edge of the roof, wondering just what it would feel like to escape the world, what the sensation of falling would be like. “No” he scolded himself. “She promised to return and I have given her my word that I will wait.” He moved off the edge, and sat with his back against it. “I love you Antonya” he whispered into the air, and blew a kiss into it. “For you, until I can hold you again.”

He was glad he had put the present into her pocket. It had cost him a fortune, but he wanted her to remember him forever. But why had Queen Ann done this? He wouldn’t put it past her, as she tended to be more the ruler of Serbia than King Vladan. He always followed through with the ideas she proposed. She was the one who called for the war. “We must show the other empires we are stronger than them!” she urged her husband one night in the library. Antonya and him were on the far side of the library, and heard it all.

He stood, and decided to face the king and queen. Returning to his room to pur fresh clothes on, he met up with a servant who was cleaning up. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she rushed, and quickly moved to another room. Putting fresh clothes on, and washing his face, he walked out of his room and down the corridor towards the throne room. On his way, he passed the corridor towards Antonya’s room, and paused before it. Reminding himself of what he had come to do, and feeling a renewed strength inside him, he walked into the room.

“Velibor, your Highness, seeking your great counsel and advice” boomed the guard who stood before the door. Many noble men and women were in attendance this morning, probably due to that fact that Antonya and Marco had just left. Bowing low in the centre of the room, he stayed like that until King Vladan acknowledged his presence. “Vladan, rise, and speak to me” the king said eventually. Velibor stood, and looked the king and queen in turn straight in the eyes.

“Your Majesties, there is a war going on, and I am one of the only fully trained, capable young men in the country that is left, who has not taken up their duty to fight for our glorious country. Please, allow me to attend the battle as soon as is permissible. I feel I have disgraced myself and you in delaying my duties for so long.” He bowed once more, and stood still waiting for the king’s reasoning to pass. The room was silent. They were expecting something like ‘I’m leaving Serbia’ or ‘I will be travelling to Russia soon’. He felt their shocked eyes on his back as they stared at him. King Vladan came down from his throne, and walked around Velibor, trying to figure out his intent. “Velibor,” he said quietly, so it would be just between them “what has caused this change of heart? For so long you fought against this, and now yo come begging to be sent to the war? I tell you, even the most eager of farm boys that have come to offer their services did not even beg like you just have. One would think you have nothing worthwhile left…” he hinted, trying to get the truth from him.
Velibor looked at the king, and answered him as honestly and respectfully as he could. “Your Highness, I have been out of place for quite a while, not realising where my duties lie. Isn’t it more important that I save my country in an effort to protect the princess that I love with all my heart, than to stand around here basking in her love, only to watch her die at the hands of a foreigner, all because I did not fight? I was bought to this castle to be trained to fight, not to entertain my heart, and she reminded me of this before she left. I love her, know that much please, but this is what’s right. And so I beg you once again your Majesty, please, let me fight.” He bowed once again, and tears swelled up in his eyes. He didn’t want to have to pour out his heart in front of the whole court, but they weren’t going to see him for much longer anyway.

Vladan looked to Ann for advice. The previous night they had discussed sending Velibor to the war in order to separate him further from Antonya, and here he was begging to be sent. Ann was truly infuriated. She had heard the rumours that this boy was using her daughter’s love for him simply to take over the throne. She would no allow a stupid, common, farm boy turned nobleman take the throne. To her he was vermin, a disgrace to the royal family. “Vladan, he is asking for what we were going to give to him anyway! Why do you doubt everything now? Send him!” she ordered him. Vladan looked into his wife’s eyes. He looked at her in disbelief, and then turned to Vladan. He could take back his judgement whenever he wanted, for he was the king right? “Velibor, young man, if this is your wish then I have every intention to let you have your way. I hope you have thought this through wisely, for it is quite a challenge to return upon the path which you are asking to travel on. Do you really want this, Velibor?” He paused, and studied Velibor. Looking on from experience, he sensed that the young man was crushed. Velibor nodded his head and murmured a reply. “then let it be, Velibor. When you are ready” he gestured to the general to come forward “speak to the general about your departure, and I wish you all the best on your way. Antonya sends her love.” With that, the king dismissed him, and he bowed low, exiting the room. Blinded by his tears, he walked out to the corridors, and found himself on his way to her room. He reached it eventually, and found a quick note there by the door. “Velibor - I knew you’d come. I love you. Moscow, Russia – ask for Marco’s residence – Antonya”

As soon as he had left the throne room, King Vladan summoned the general to his side. “Make sure that he fights, but if he dies and my daughter comes home distraught, you will be at her disposal, after having endured my punishments. Understand?” The general looked for even the smallest hint of a joke in his eyes, but the king meant it. “Anything happens, General, and I hold you to fault.”

Two days later, with little of his belongings packed, and the note safely with him, he departed for the battlefield. His heart grew cold, and he fought like no other man there with him. His battlefront came to victory quite often, and upon the last victory, he walked out into the middle of the field, and stood there. “General, general! We can’t find Velibor anywhere. We fear he is dead. He is gone general!”


Alexandre got up, pulling Antonya up with him. “Princess, I’m going okay, and I’ll see you around later. Be good my beautiful. I love you” he smiled cheekily, and picked up his coat. Antonya walked over to the strawberries, her platter nearly finished, and ate one, nodding in acknowledgment to him. “Goodbye” he smiled.

Just as he walked through her doorway to leave, Cristian came bursting in the room, with a young man not far behind him. Alexandre frowned, and Cristian slapped his cheek lightly. “Your Highnesses!” he laughed, mocking a bow, walking over to kiss Antonya on the cheek. “Have a good time? It’s funny how I’m always right, wouldn’t you agree Vlad?” Vladimir looked up from the floor, and smiled at Cristian. His eyes fell on Princess Antonya, and he broke into the cheesiest smile. “Princess! It is good to see you again” he laughed, and bowed. He held out a hand to Alexandre, who shook it. “Antonya, Alexandre, this is Vladimir, a very old friend of mine. Do you remember how I used to train with the general for war Antonya? And there were three of us troublemakers? Well, this is my third friend! It was me, Velibor and Vladan” he explained, turning to Alexandre “who caused all the trouble in the castle back in Serbia.” He put a hand on Cristian’s back.

Wow, thought Antonya silently. He was dressed in one of Cristian’s suits until his clothes were ready, and he looked quite nice. To imagine he was here in Moscow! What a coincidence! She laughed quietly to herself, and the boys excused themselves from her room. She could remember Velibor and Cristian quite well from their training days, but not once did she recall seeing Vladimir. His name sounded familiar though. Maybe he was the little boy that always used to stare at her. He played a lot with the other two boys back then. Come to think of it, they had the same brown eyes. If that was him, how he’d grown!

Her mind drifted back to Velibor, and looking outside, she noticed the leaves falling from the trees. How she missed him! Thinking back to last night, she realised just how wrong she was. It was her who had used Velibor, not him to her. Velibor was like that at the start, but he truly loved her. The last day I spent with you, Velibor, she thought, that was when I realised just how much I had ruined you, and you had ruined me. “I left because I couldn’t bear to face up to what I had done to you, and even then by the time I knew it was too late. I’m sorry Velibor, I killed you” she whispered, leaning out of her window. “Velibor, I love you. I’m sorry.”

Glancing at the tray of strawberries, she realised it was empty. Picking it up, she thought of calling a maid to refresh it for her, and decided not. She walked down to the kitchen herself, in search of Andrei, wanting to talk to him. He was in the kitchen, but busy preparing the midday meal. Walking out the door in the kitchen that lead to the gardens, she wandered around there, hoping to find a gardener to thank for the beautiful strawberries. Walking through the countless plants and fruits, she found no gardener, but found herself thinking of Lukas.

Upon reaching the end of the garden, she had seen no gardener, only the most beautiful dog. She bent down and ran her fingers through its coat. How soft it was! The dog was a husky, and looked a little old. She stayed with it, enjoying it’s company. It licked her fingers and looked happy to see her. “Oh, you are truly a beautiful dog! Do you belong to the gardener? I wonder what you’re name is…” she sat there, stroking it a little while longer, when all of a sudden a deep voice boomed from behind her. “Diego! Come!” The dog raised itself slowly, and limped towards the man, stopping to lick Antonya’s hand once more before leaving. She stood back up, and dusted off her dress, turning around to see who was there. Behind her stood Cristian, Vladimir and a reluctant looking Alexandre.

“A friend of dogs, are you Princess Antonya?” asked Vladimir politely, stroking Diego. “I couldn’t say,” she replied. “I was looking for the gardener to congratulate him on such wonderful strawberries, when I found this wonderful dog. Does it belong to you?” “Yes, his name’s Diego.” Diego lifted his head in response to hearing his name, and Antonya laughed. Cristian moved right up to Diego and patted him, but Alexandre kept his distance. “Is Russia’s soon-to-be Tsar scared of a dog?” she laughed, but he did not take it lightly. “Leave me alone. Royalty does not belong down in the dirt with an animal” he scolded her. She glared at him, and Cristian was amazed. He had never seen this side of his friend before. Was he scared?

Antonya began to walk away from the group just as Alexandre walked up to Diego to prove to them he wasn’t scared. With arrogant intentions, he leaned down to pat Diego. Diego barked at him, but he did not acknowledge his warning, for Diego could sense his arrogance. Just as he touched Diego’s head, Diego lurched forward and sunk his teeth into Alexandre’s leg. He screamed out in pain, and Antonya turned around and immediately ran to him. Kneeling beside Diego, Cristian and Vladimir coaxed the dog to release it’s teeth from his leg, and move away. Thankfully he did not bite into his leg fully, and there was minimal blood. “Alexandre! What is wrong with you?” yelled Cristian. “Alexandre shot a glare at Cristian. “I am your best friend, and here you are questioning me? You should be reprimanding the dog, not I!” Vladimir looked at them both, and glanced at Antonya. She shot him a sympathetic look, and scolded them both. “Do you boys have no respect for each other? The dog bit you for your arrogance, Alexandre. As soon as you entered the garden, the air stank with it. But Cristian you should have known better. Shame on you both!” dragging Cristian and Alexandre behind her, she left Vladimir to tend to Diego, and took Alexandre to his room.

Between them they managed to fix up Alexandre’s leg, and within a few days it was as good as new. Alexandre, Vladimir and Cristian became like best friends, but Alexandre hardly talked to Antonya. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen every day, talking to Andrei. One day, during their conversations, a young man came in, laden with two baskets packed to the brim. He said something to Andrei in a foreign language unknown to the princess, and they laughed. Turning to Antonya, the man bowed. She nodded her head in his direction “this is the man who makes the wonderful strawberries you love so much princess!” he explained, gesturing towards the young man. She smiled and stood immediately, and shook the man’s hand. “Thank you so much! I love these strawberries! I love them!” he looked at her a while, and then smiled. “You like my strawberries your highness?” he asked, bowing again. “indeed! Say, what was your name?” “Oh, I am Ivan. I have been the gardener here since I was fourteen. I owe it to Andrei, for he begged Master Marco for this job for me. I am most grateful!” Antonya laughed, and turned to Andrei. “Andrei, do you mind if I have some of these fresh strawberries? You needn’t worry about making a sauce. I just would like the strawberries.” “Why princess!” offered Ivan “come with me now, and you can pick and choose for yourself from the strawberry patch your favourite strawberries to eat!” She delighted at this idea, and ran to follow Ivan out to his garden.

The walked right through the first garden, and passed Vladimir who was visiting Diego. She smiled at him, and he got up and ran to join her, Diego following not far behind. “Your Highness, what are you doing?” he asked playfully, looking for something to do. “Strawberry picking! Did you ever do that in the gardens back home with Lukas? Come!” she called back to him. They walked through the orchards, and right at the end of the garden, in their own ‘secret’ courtyard, were the strawberries. “Ivan! This is truly wonderful! How come I have never seen this garden before? Wow!” she said quietly ,shocked by the sheer, utter beauty of the courtyard. “Do you like it your Highness? I made it myself. Marco allowed me this end of the castle for my gardens, to grow the food for the kitchens. I call this end the strawberry courtyard. Feel free to come whenever you please!” He smiled, handed her a basket, and then left her and Vladimir to it, while he went to work in the orchards.

Soon their basket was full, them having eaten enough to fill another basket while they were picking. Laughing, she began to walk back up to the kitchens, when Diego began to bark. Putting her basket down, Antonya walked back to where he was. Vladimir was nowhere in sight. Trying to figure out what Diego was hinting at, she bent down to stroke his fur. Just as she did, Vladimir appeared behind her, holding her basket. She stood up, sensing someone’s presence, and turned around. He grabbed her by the waist, blinded by his desire, and kissed her. “Vladimir” she warned, and took the basket from him. Without looking back to him, she picked up the basket and returned to Andrei. Watching from the windows in the castle above, Cristian and Alexandre watched silently.


The princess walked into the banquet hall, and took her seat next to her mother, surprised to see Velibor already seated at his place. They had already started eating, so she began to eat. A silence fell out over the hall as people kept eating, and King Vladan stood to address the court. Marco was on the other side of her, and he leaned in to warn her about what her father was about to do. “I hope, Antonya” he whispered “that you have already informed Velibor of your coming departure to Russia with me, as that is what your father is about to bring before the court. I will talk to you later about things that have just happened. I tried to find you earlier and tell you, but I was unable to do so.”

She switched to panic mode, and looked at Velibor. He was smiling at her, and she wondered if there was some way they could both be excused from the meal without looking suspicious. Marco noticed her haste, grabbed her arm tightly. “Don’t do anything. If you haven’t been able to tell him by now then I fear it is too late! Antonya, your father is about to speak. Please, don’t disrespect him any more than you already have.” She looked at him, accepting defeat, and turned her concentration to her father while taking a sip of wine.

“What a glorious day today is, would you not agree my fellow Serbians?” a murmur of agreement swept through the hall, and the king continued. “Truly, today is wonderful! We once again have the upper-hand in this battle, the sun shined all day, Marco is here to dine with us, and I have great news to tell you!” A wave of excitement swept through the hall, as hardly ever did the king have something good to say. People began to converse quietly about what it might be. “As I have often thought, the best way to learn and grow is to experience, and therefore understand. You would agree with me, would you not, Marco?” he turned and faced his brother, who nodded in agreement, having a mouthful of food. “So I have decided to send my beautiful daughter Princess Antonya to Russia for a period of time, to visit and experience their wonderful culture. This will also strengthen our ties with the Russians. Would you not agree?” People began to talk a little more loudly among themselves, and one man spoke up. “Your Highness, I mean not to question your decisions, but who is it that you will send to accompany her? For the trip is long and dangerous! I would wish no harm to come upon our beautiful Princess.” Once again people nodded in agreement with this concern, and Marco raised his voice. “I live in Russia, and the royal family are frequent visitors to my castle. Princess Antonya will travel with me, and will stay with me once there. Does that seem fit with you?” The man who was concerned seemed satisfied, and all returned to their normal habits, the king having sat down again to finish eating.

The whole time this was going on, Velibor looked at Antonya, looking into her eyes. This is what she had to tell him, but didn’t know how to say it. With tears in his eyes, he fled from the banquet hall quietly, with no one but Antonya noticing. Having finished eating, she followed him from a distance, and watched as he stood in the courtyard crying uncontrollably. She walked to his room, and waited there for him.

Velibor was heart broken. Speaking aloud to himself, he cried and cried in the courtyard until he had no tears left. “I was just coming to truly love you Antonya! Why?” Eventually he stood, long after everyone else had gone to bed, and walked towards his room. He walked in and threw himself on his bed, without thinking. Antonya let out a sharp cry in pain, and Velibor got up immediately out of fright. Realising it was only Antonya, he lay back down on her, and embraced her. He cried and cried, while she ran her fingers through his hair and held his face. Together they lay like that for the rest of the night, not saying a word.

Morning came, and they both awoke late together, but laid like that for so long. “I tried to tell you” Antonya said, tears coming from her eyes. “I tried, but so many times I couldn’t find the words to say it, or you would tell me it could wait. I’m sorry, so sorry Velibor.” She looked in his eyes. He sat up. “Antonya, you have no idea how much it hurt. I thought your father was just going to say something stupid about your uncle. He always jokes when Marco is here. But he didn’t, and what he did say, Antonya, I don’t know. What am I to do? I can’t live without you!”

He lay on top of her and kissed her, tears falling from both their eyes. He paused a moment, then got out of bed. Dressing quickly, he pulled her up out of the sheets. “Come on, quickly!” She fixed her dress and made an attempt at her hair. He ran to his fireplace and removed something from the top, placing it in his pocket. He wrapped his arms around her, kissing her quickly, then together they walked through countless corridors and out into the courtyards.

“Antonya, do you remember when we first kissed? It was right here, under this tree, and it was your first kiss. I remember it so well.” He whispered, playing with her hair. She was silent. Avoiding his eyes, she gazed out over the courtyard. Beautiful flower beds against every wall and bench, and an ancient oak tree right in the centre, branches reaching out in an effort to embrace the whole garden. The leaves were slowly falling from its wonderful arms, creating a beautiful carpet of red, orange and gold underneath their feet. “It was just like this when I first held you, right there by the bench.” She moved away from him, hurting at the fact that she was unable to ease his pain. Sitting on the bench, she looked over at Velibor. He stood, his back turned to her, looking out over the walls of the courtyard and down into the valleys beyond. Tears cascaded down her pale cheeks silently, as she thought over everything she had just done. “I’m sorry.” She whispered, though he never heard.

Loud voices were coming from the castle, and Velibor turned to face her. He had grown to love Antonya with all his heart. At first she had been nothing but an instrument, a step in his ladder of success. But now she was so much more, and just as he came to acknowledge that, and vow to treat her better, life turned it’s back on him and here she was, embarking on a journey that is sure to end her love for him. “Antonya I love you!” His heart cried out, and he began to cry hysterically. Breaking down in tears, he fell to the ground, and sat there. “Antonya, please, I love you” was all he said to her, and she ran to him. “I love you Antonya, I love you. I love you so much! I can’t…I don’t…I love…Antonya! Please? I…I…” he buried his head in her arms, and cried. She looked at him. Was this what it felt like when your heart was broken? She was torn in two. How would she tell Velibor that she had to leave tomorrow? She stroked his cheek, speechless. “I’m sorry Vel, I am” she breathed, pressing her face into his hair. She held his face.

Velibor lay there in her arms. She was killing him, and she didn’t even know. His heart began to stop racing, and his breathing started to become even again. She smelled so nice. He felt her leaning in to him and her cold hands on his face. Reaching up, he placed his hand on hers. “I promise that I love you, Antonya! I love you so much I cannot describe it with words…no act of love would be enough! Not even the stars in the sky, once counted could show by how much I love you!”

Queen Ann came at that moment, with Marco and King Vladan close on her heels. “My daughter! What are you doing here in the dirt? Why are you out here in this cold weather? Get up immediately! Velibor! Rise now and be of some assistance!” She screamed, at the top of her voice. Antonya lay there a little while longer, kissing Velibor’s hair. “I love you Velibor, and I’m sorry. I’ll be home soon okay?” He kissed her hand, and slipped something into the pocket concealed in her dress “I’ll be back, I promise!” she cried out to him, and was ushered away by her outraged mother. He had his back turned to them, trying to hide the tears that so openly admitted to the world the condition of his heart. “I love you too Antonya, and I will wait forever for you” he vowed in a whisper.


Cristian ran out of the castle gates, laughing to himself about Alexandre and Antonya. Surely his cousin loved his best friend, and he returned her feelings, yet both were to scared to do anything? Laughing quietly to himself, he walked down to the town. Everyone knew him here and loved him too. He had no idea why he had decided to come into town, and paused, having just reached the town square. It was good at times, being known as the ‘son’ of one of the richest men in Russia, but it had its downside. People were constantly coming to him pestering him to buy things, or staring at him with pleading eyes, trying to make him give them money.

Just as he crossed through the centre of the square, a young man came running to him. “Cristian! Cristian! You must come with me! Please! Sit down and eat with me!” His He walked over with the man, and together they sat down. He looked familiar to Cristian, but he couldn’t quite figure out why. Not feeling a bit hungry, he watched this strange man order, and then eat messily. He was definitely not from a noble background, which caused his suspicions to rise.

“Who are you?” Cristian demanded, as the man finished off his last mouthful. “I am Vladimir!” He exclaimed. “Don’t you remember me? I used to train with you and Velibor with the general! We used to spend so much time together! How could you forget me?” Vladimir’s face portrayed a truly broken heart, and in that instant Cristian remembered him. “Vladimir! Oh, Vlad my friend how you’ve changed! and you’ve grown as well! I’m so sorry I didn’t recognise you, but it’s been so long! How long have you been in Moscow?”

“My family moved here a few years ago, after they heard about the war. How is Princess Antonya? Last time I saw her, she was truly a wonder.” His voice trailed off, getting lost in thoughts of his memories of her. “She’s up at the castle, and apparently Velibor got sent off to war and died there. I don’t know, but she really took it hard. Now I think she’s fallen in love with Alexandre. Such is life with her, I guess.”

Vladimir was stunned. So much had happened! “Oh! I had no idea she was here in Moscow. She must be visiting you and Marco then I guess? She’s in love with Alexandre though? After Velibor? As in Alexandre, the Tsar’s son? Wow. I can honestly say I never saw that coming.” Cristian searched his friend’s face. Did he already know then, about what had happened to Velibor? “Vladimir, you seem to care more about my sister then one of your closest childhood friends…”he started, trying to get an answer from Vladimir without directly having to ask the question. “Yeah, I already knew about Velibor, but I knew nothing of her latest. That is truly wonderful that she has found it in her heart to move on.”

Cristian looked at him expectantly, expecting him to just have to confess something stupid, like he always did when they were younger. Vladimir’s face turned serious, and his eyes were downcast. Leaving some money on the table, he led his friend to a sidewalk, where he untied the most beautiful dog in the world. “It was a present” explained Vladimir “from my aunty, before we left Serbia. A pure-bred husky, there like wolves.” The dog was of decent size, and the most beautiful, soft fur. Leaning down to pat it, Cristian quizzed Vladimir. “How come your dog has not been stolen yet? A truly beautiful dog like this is much wanted and worth so much these days!” Vladimir laughed, and together they walked with the dog. Cristian realised why, as soon as they began to walk with the dog. “Diego is old and has a limp” stated Vladimir “so he would not be worth much at all. But he is my one sole companion lately. I have given up on my sister, and my parents are both nearly dead. I was so surprised when I saw you in the square. I have never seen you here before, yet I knew you lived here. The people here love you!”

“I know,” Cristian sighed “it’s a far cry from back home though, wouldn’t you say? Most people, especially the maids and Queen Ann couldn’t stand me! What trouble-makers we were!” He laughed, and looked at his friend. How sadly he was dressed. Did he even live in a decent house anymore? “Vladimir, where do you live? For you do not look like you’ve been inside for days.” He cast his eyes immediately down, and his step lost its bounce. “Please, you don’t have to pity me, like all those poor people. I saw the way they stared at you. I don’t need that.” “Vlad” Cut in Cristian “Did I ask you whether you wanted money or not? Where do you live my friend?” Looking into his Cristian’s eyes, he told him. “You know the alley where we took Diego from? Well not far down from where we got him was a door. I live there.” Cristian looked relieved, then realised something. “Wait, you live in the doorway don’t you? Not in the house. That is why you are so cold!” Vladimir cast his eyes even further down, and Cristian grabbed his friends hand.

Cristian stopped him and pulled back along the road towards the tailor’s shop which he and Marco visited frequently. Dragging him inside, he ordered a new set of clothes for his friend, to be made immediately. Leaving a large amount of gold coins on the table, he drew his friend aside. “Are your sister and parents still waiting for you?” “No” he said, still lost as to what Cristian was doing. “Good then. You will move in with me at the castle. There are still so many spare rooms and I could do with another friend to hang around with, seeming my best friend is soon going to be tied in with my cousin. What do you say?”

It took a while for the words to sink into Vladimir. Was this real? “But what will happen to Diego?” he questioned, preferring to stay outside in the cold then lose his beloved companion. “I’ll have the physician at the castle see to him, and he can live with us! … Though I doubt father will let him in the castle rooms, he will be in the castle and well cared for, and you can see him anytime you want.”

Vladimir looked at Cristian, and hugged his friend, tears of joy coming from his eyes. “I owe you so much, Cristian. Anything, anything you need! Please, I promise I will do anything to repay you!” Cristian smiled, and patted him on the back. “Right now, all I need is someone to have fun with. Go, and let the tailor finish your clothes. I’ll wait here for you.”

He went off with the tailor into another room, and Cristian sat in one of the chairs, wondering what on earth he was going to do now. Just then, the bell of the door rang, and one of the castle maids whom Cristian knew well walked in. She glanced around, and nodded in his direction. “My lord! What are you doing here?” “Oh, hi. I’m with a friend. And what business do you have down here?” He looked at her, noticing the bag in her hand, which had the royal Serbian coat of arms on it. “Oh, her Highness, Princess Antonya sent me to town to find her the best tailor, someone who is willing to make what she pleases. I’ve been in town all day trying to find the best tailor for her, and everyone has referred me to someone else. This is the last place left that I can go to.” She smiled and bowed her head, and he laughed. “Oh, my cousin is a pain, wouldn’t you agree? Oh well, you’ll have luck with this place, as the tailor here is the only tailor that Marco and I would ever recommend. His name is Luis, he’s from Italy. I think Antonya will much like his styles. Tell him I recommended you to see him.” “Thankyou, my lord.”

Not long after they had finished speaking, Vladimir came back and Cristian stood to meet him. “Well?” he questioned. “He said that he will be present at the castle tomorrow, and will bring the clothes with him then. I thankyou so much Cristian!” Smiling, they walked outside and Vladimir whistled to Diego. Together the trio walked towards the castle, reminiscing their childhood days.


Antonya paced through the western courtyard waiting for Velibor to turn up. She had worn the dress he loved most, and she had wished to make up with him, and tell him the news. She sat there for a while, and then gave up. How long had she waited for him and he had not shown?

She walked back broken heartedly towards her room. She was in the corridor leading up to her room, when she heard voices coming from the courtyard outside. Looking out through one of the many windows, she saw the general and Velibor deep in discussion. He glanced up in her direction, and she moved on quickly, pretending not to notice. Surely he despised the general, and here he was walking with him?

Antonya reached her room eventually, and sat on one of the chairs near the window. It was a fairly nice day today. The sun was shining, there was some blue sky. She walked to her wardrobe and began to sort through the clothes there. Half of this stuff is too cold for Moscow, she thought. Leafing through her many dresses, she found one of her old favourites. Full length and long sleeved, it was black with blue ribbons and silver lace. The tailor that had made it for her had said it was like the finest gowns that they wore in Great Britain. Maybe her parents would let her travel there one day, for this gown was truly beautiful. She called a maid to help her, and she dressed in it for old times’ sake. Her hair was done, and she smiled.

She decided to stay in that dress for the rest of the day, and returned to sorting through her dresses. Suddenly two hands wrapped themselves tightly around her waist and someone began to kiss the back of her neck. “I remember the day I first saw you” Velibor said, turning her around to face him. “You wore this dress, and it was the banquet for me and those who trained with me, in honour of our training being over. You sat there next to your father, watching me constantly with the biggest smile on your face!” She put her hands on his face, and she began to kiss him. He always tasted nice. Sweet like the strawberries that Lukas made, yet so strong and powerful. She savoured every bit of him, drawing him closer, all the while still kissing him slowly, passionately, wanting to devour him. He wrapped his arms ever so tightly around her, holding her so tightly he could feel every part of her. Her heart beat so strongly, and it only aroused his desire for her and made it grow stronger. Her small, delicate hands were in his hair, then on his shoulders.

He began to unlace the back of her dress, but she pulled away. “Please, not today Velibor.” She looked at him pleadingly, and he drew her in again, doing the lace back up, and kissing her neck. She laughed, and together they sat at the window. “I missed you Antonya.” He said slowly, his thick accent hypnotising her. She leaned down to hug him, resting her cheek on his. “I love you so much Velibor” she whispered softly in his ear.

“I’m sorry for missing you today Antonya, and meeting in the western courtyard. I got caught up.” Antonya sat back, studying his face. He looked back at her, questioningly, wondering what she was searching for in him. “Caught up?” She replied, trying not to accuse him of anything. She looked at him, knowing full well where he had been. “I saw you, and I know you saw me. I shouldn’t hide these things from you, I’m sorry.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her up for a walk. Together they wandered around the countless corridors and passages in the castle.

“I was trying to bargain with the general, so that if they do send me to the war, I may be in one of the less dangerous parts, so that I will surely come back to you. The conversation seemed to go okay.” She looked at him, trying not to laugh. She found it so funny that he didn’t know the general properly, he himself having been trained by the general for seven years. Surely he knew what the general was like.

They stopped at one the windows looking down on the town and stayed there a while. “Velibor, I love you, you know that.” He looked at her, staring into her eyes, searching the deep, mysterious hazel oceans that seemed trapped inside them. “What’s up Antonya? Please don’t be mad at me, or angry! I love you!” He drew her close and held her tight. She was cold, and his embrace brought some warmth, but nothing more. “You know how father and I constantly argue; and you know first hand him and mother don’t approve of us. Marco doesn’t care, but all this trouble with father is ruining his health, not to mention the stress of the war and all the townspeople.” “What are you trying to say Antonya? I don’t understand.” She looked up at his dark brown eyes, and studied his gently tanned face. “I … I don’t know how to say it Velibor. I love you! It’s not because I don’t love you!” She burst into tears and buried her face in his chest. He stroked her hair, and held her tightly. “Let’s go somewhere warmer and talk there.”

To cheer her up, he lifted up Antonya and carried her through some of the corridor. Putting her down gently, he pushed her against a wall and kissed her. “Antonya I love you more than the world. I want you more than anything else. I want to be one with you! I want to have you with me forever!” He pressed up against her and held her fast, kissing her so strongly. She felt his heart beating against her skin. How she longed for this!

They were closer to his room, so he took her there. Sitting close by the fire to warm her up, he lay on the floor next her and drew pictures on her leg. She lay down with him, and he held her. “I love you, Antonya” he whispered gently in her ear, his lips brushing against her cheek. Deciding against telling him, Antonya lay back and let Velibor lie on her. His hands caressed her body while he whispered softly to her in between kisses. She fell asleep in his arms.

He kissed her and kissed her, but fell back, the fire slowly lulling him to sleep. Gently he pulled off the outer garment of her dress, and lay it on the chair. She was so small and fragile when she was asleep! He lay back down next to her and stroked her soft, pale cheeks. Placing a kiss gently on her lips, he lifted her up and lay her on his bed, covering her with the sheets. He sat on the edge of the bed, stroking her face and talking softly to her. He stood and closed the door, then climbed into bed beside her, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in the back of her neck. She smelled so sweet. Together they slept there.

Velibor woke first, hearing the sound of a maid entering to stoke the fire. He sat up, and glanced out his door. Across the corridor from his room was a window that looked out to the hills behind the castle. It was getting dark outside. The maid left, and Velibor shut the door. If he wanted Antonya, then now was the only time he was going to get her. Removing his shirt, he turned and face his sleeping love. She stirred in her sleep, and he rolled her over gently. She woke up, and he lay on top of her, kissing her softly and slowly. She returned his kisses with more power as she became more awake. Suddenly she realised what he was trying to do, and she sat up. He sat on her, wondering what she was doing. Looking at him with ears in her eyes, she got out of the bed, only to find that her outer dress was missing. “Velibor!” She cried, collapsing on the mat in front of the fire. “You promised me it wouldn’t be like this. When we were both ready is what you said!”

He looked at her, dumbstruck. Isn’t this what they both wanted? “But I thought…”he began, but stopped. He helped her up off the floor, and held her tight. Pressing her head into his chest, she cried. He felt her warm tears fall on his bare chest, and lifted her chin up. He wiped away her tears and kissed her softly. “I’m sorry Antonya” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. He helped her dress up again, and made a sorry attempt at fixing her hair. Luckily a maid had come to inform them that dinner would start soon, so he employed her help. Antonya did not smile for the rest of the time, and he held her in his arms, crying, longing to feel her return his hug, or return his kisses, but there was nothing.

She saw Velibor cry, yet felt unable to do anything. He hadn’t done anything to her, but how could he let it go this far? Her heart began to soften though, and she reached up brushed away his tears, holding his face in her hands. “I’m sorry” he whispered, as tears began to fall again from his eyes. She kissed him, and held him tight. He kissed her back, and pulled her in tightly. “You should dress.” Mumbled Antonya, as she was tracing the lines on his chest. How strong he was! She was sitting in his lap, and he lifted her up with him, and sat her down on the bed. Kissing her, he bent down to pick up his shirt and his coat. Eyes swollen from crying, he found it hard to do up the buttons, so Antonya stood and helped him. They kissed one last, long time, savouring every moment. “I promise that I love you, Antonya! I love you so much I cannot describe it with words…no act of love would be enough! Not even the stars in the sky, once counted could show by how much I love you!”

She smiled, and kissed him on the cheek. “Maybe after dinner then, my love.” she hinted, and left the room.