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