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.