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.


Sunlight was pouring through the clouds, illuminating her room through her window. The view from her window was amazing. He walked towards it, but saw her bed on the way and collapsed with exhaustion on it. “Hope you don’t mind, but unlike you I didn’t get to sleep in late today.” “Don’t worry about it.” She took off her outer coat and was wearing a beautiful turquoise blue dress underneath. Standing by the fire place in her room, she placed the platter of strawberries on the small table just next to the chair she was on, and picked one up. Lathering it thickly in the sauce Andrei had made, she carried it to Alexandre and forced him to sit up.

Holding one hand over his eyes, she opened his mouth and put the strawberry in. “Chew it, savour it!” she ordered him. He laughed, and almost choked on the strawberry. “Please tell me that you’re not choking again?” she laughed and he shook his head. Finishing the strawberry, he rose form the bed and walked to the tray.

“You Serbians hide the best the world has to offer, and hardly ever share it!” He picked up another strawberry, and ate it straight without the sauce. She laughed, and sat down in the chair by the fire. He went and stood by her, eventually sitting on the floor beside her. There was only one chair in the room. Antonya felt guilty, her mother having taught her how to be a good host, and she sat on the floor with him.

“What? You can’t sit on the floor! Oh no! No!” He was shocked that she would do such a thing, but she didn’t care. If anything, it was warmer here on the floor by the fire. “Alexandre, you’re my guest! It’s rude for me to sit on a chair and for you to have to stand or sit on the floor. That is disgraceful! If you sit on the chair, then I will be happy, but if you sit on the floor then I will do so too. Plus, it’s warmer here.”

She smiled, and Alexandre fought so hard the urge to just wrap his arms around her and hold her tight. How beautiful she was! Especially with that smile on her face. She noticed his staring at her, but was glad he was doing so. She felt so different around Alexandre, but it was a good different. He talked to her, and she felt safe with him. She wanted to tell him everything that had happened, how much of a failure she was, and without realising it a troubled look crossed her face. She frowned, and walked to the window to stare out at the sky. Why couldn’t one day pas without her being truly happy anymore? Why couldn’t there be one day where she could enjoy life without one moment of sadness?

Alexandre saw the frown cross the princess’ face, but didn’t know what to do. Why was she sad? Had he done something? She rose and walked to the window, leaning against it staring out to the sky. “I tried, Alexandre, I’m sorry!” she whispered, bursting into tears. It was as if the sun shared her pain, for it disappeared from the sky, and Alexandre’s heart was shattered to see her like this. She undid her hair in anger, and it fell softly against her face. Her hazel eyes were glassy with tears, her cheeks moist in their wake.

He stood from where he was, and wrapping his arms around her, he moved her towards the fire, away from the cold window. They sat down on the floor again, and he reached for her hand. Holding it tightly, he drew her closer to him and held her close. They sat in silence for ages, watching the fire burn. “Antonya, why are you crying? Why do you think you’ve failed and need to apologise?” he softly questioned her. Fresh tears began to fall from her eyes, and she told him everything.
Alexandre had no idea of everything that had happened to her, and he held her tightly. “Why don’t you reject me” she asked, turning around to look in his eyes “like everyone else? They all turn away from me. Though they make out not to show that they don’t like me, I can always tell. Why aren’t you walking away, muttering under your breath like everyone else?”

He was taken aback by this. “I…well it’s because…I…umm…” he stuttered “It’s because…” unable to find the words to say it with, he lifted her chin and kissed her softly. “Antonya, I love you” he whispered in her ear, holding her face in his hands. She was frozen, not knowing what to do or say. He began to get nervous, thinking that she would reject him, but her arms wrapped around his neck, and she pulled his head down to hers.

“Alexandre, I love you too.” She whispered, and kissed him. Her soft lips pressed against his, and softly she kissed him, until he couldn’t bear it any longer, and kissed her more passionately. He pulled her in closer to him, and felt her heart racing against his chest. He broke free from her kiss and began to stroke her cheek. She rested her head against his chest and felt his heart beat – steady and strong, like him. He ran his hands though her hair and she kissed his knuckles. “Alexandre” she exhaled, and he kissed her. “Antonya, oh, Antonya! Don’t you dare let anyone else tell you what you should be like. I promise I won’t be like that. I love you Antonya. I love you!”

He let go of her, and leaned back against the chair. She stood, and picked up a strawberry. With tears falling from her eyes, she walked to the window, and ate it. The sun shone brightly again, and he stood and lay on her bed watching her. The sun lit up her wonderful hazel eyes, and a soft breeze blew her hair gently away from her face. The light on her pale face was soft, and her gown followed her fragile figure gently, the blue accentuating her dark hair and light eyes. She was like an angel, with her soft cheeks and innocent eyes. She sat on the window, and lifted the strawberry to her mouth. Her sweet tender lips hugged the strawberry as she went to bite it.

He leaned back on her pillows, and closed his eyes, overcome with love for her. Her eyes wandered over to him, and she got down from her window ledge. How peacefully he lay there. She walked over and softly kissed his cheek. His skin was gently tanned, his dark brown hair soft and messy, yet so becoming. His arms were so strong. She stood back and walked to her window. He lay there, in his white shirt and long brown fur coat, black pants and tall black leather boots that came up over his pants. Boots on her bed! Oh well, she thought. He opened his eyes, and she turned to look out the window once more.

He walked over, lifted her up and threw her on the bed. Throwing of his coat he jumped on top of her, and started laughing. Antonya had no idea what he was going to do, but she didn’t care. She loved him. He lay down on top of her and began kissing her again. “Antonya, you’re mine. As long as I am alive I will have you, I will love you, no matter what. I don’t care!” he yelled, and he kissed her fervently. She pushed her fingers through his hair and pulled him in closer. His hands ran down her body, and tears began to fall from his eyes. He lay beside her, and buried his head in her chest. She stroked his head and he cried.

“Antonya, I don’t want to leave you, ever. If I go somewhere, if I do something, I want to feel your touch, know your presence there with me. I love you Antonya.”


King Vladan was taken aback by the fact that his young Princess Antonya actually wanted to leave Serbia for a while. He thought that Velibor and Antonya would be inseparable. Queen Ann, seated next to him, smiled at this news, yet said nothing more.

Marco had entered the room wondering what on earth his brother could possibly want now. At times he got seriously annoyed with Vladan, his older brother though he be. Hopefully he would allow this to come to pass, for the way Antonya sounded she really needed a break, and it would do Vladan no harm to let her go a while. But would he let her go all the way home to Moscow with him?

Vladan stood as his brother entered the room, and greeted him with a smile. “Join me in a drink brother!” he exclaimed, passing a glass of wine to Marco. Marco was surprised to see his brother so happy. “Marco, my dear brother, I am so happy this night! I light has shone in my darkness, and I think I know now what to do!” He winked at his wife, and then sat down.

Marco was rather amused by this, seeing his brother enjoying himself, yet acting formal at the same time. “What causes you so much joy this evening Vladan? One might think that there was excess wine in the palace and you were responsible for it’s disposal!” They all laughed, Marco draining his glass and holding it out so a maid could pour more for him. “Such humor brother! Would you be the next court jester for me? I’m starting to miss the old one, though he got out of hand occasionally…” His voice drifted off, and the smile slowly began to recede from his face.

Marco saw this as the perfect opportunity to ask Vladan about Antonya. “Vladan, you know I promised you a solution, or at least a proposal, remember, for Antonya?” The king looked at him for a while, lost, then his face lit up. “Oh, yes! I remember!...come to think of it, isn’t that why we asked for his presence here with us Ann? I think it was…”

Hopefully this is going to be a positive conversation then, thought Marco. His brother was a professional at taking a good moment and ruining it sourly. “Marco,” Vladan said, bringing him out of his thoughts. “Ann and I were discussing life earlier today, when she brought to my mind an wonderful idea, although you are yet to agree with me.” He paused and sipped from his glass. Marco stood and moved to stand closer to the fire, while Ann reached out to support her husband. “Oh, my brother, she loves you, truly she does, like a best friend, an older brother. You’re her idol. If she’s not talking about Velibor its always about you. Often she has expressed her desire to travel to Russia with you and visit Moscow for a while…”

“Vladan!” Marco cut in “this is the solution I have for you! Oh my, I never thought I’d here you even talk of such a thing. Hopefully this is what you meant, but getting back on track.” He paused for a breath, suddenly excited at what his brother could have been suggesting. “I followed Antonya to her room after she stormed out of dinner tonight, and we were talking for a while. She told me about the jester, but then moved on to Velibor. According to her, things are not all too well with them at the moment, and she begged me to take her with me to Moscow, even if it were only for a few weeks she said. I would really love to bring Antonya to Moscow!”

Queen Ann’s eyes were shining so bright, and the king stood and began to pace, but this time with a spring in his step. They were overjoyed to hear that Antonya had said this of her own accord. Just at that moment, Antonya walked into the library.

“Ah, my beautiful daughter! We were just talking about you. Please, sit here! Of all the things I’ve ever said to you that have made you come to hate me, surely this will change your heart to me!” The king was smiling, and gestured to the seat next to Marco. Antonya looked at her father strangely. Marco sat down next to her, and she whispered in his ear. “Has father been drinking a lot of wine Marco?” He laughed and shook his head.

“Darling, your uncle, father and I have been discussing what to do you. I don’t mean that in a bad way dear, but it seems to me that what you need most is a break from your father and I, and to get out and see the world.” She motioned for the maid to bring a glass for Antonya. “True, Antonya, and I am so sorry that I haven’t been able to be the best father to you.” The king rose and kissed his daughter’s forehead.

Marco stood up, and moved once again by the fire. “Antonya, I have told your parents of your desire to travel with me to Moscow. They know just how much you wish to come with me, and all too well how much I wish to take my little niece home with me.” Antonya’s face lit up brightly, and she was sitting on the edge of her chair in anticipation. “Unfortunately, they said I can’t have you forever.” Casting her eyes downwards, she sat back in the chair feeling even more defeated. I should have never come, she thought to herself.

“Ha, Marco! You’re crazy my little brother! I swear you claim my daughter loves you, but she does not even understand what you meant! You have broken her heart!” He laughed, but stopped abruptly after seeing Antonya’s eyes declaring murder in his direction. “Oh my sweet, we were just joking! Your mother and I have decided to allow you to travel to Moscow with your uncle. Provided he wants you, and you behave.”

Antonya looked at Marco, and watched him as he returned to his seat next to her. HE put an arm around her shoulders and laughed. She punched his leg, and jumped up to hug her parents. Queen Ann stood to meet her daughter, and tears began to fall from her eyes having finally seen her daughter enjoy something honestly for once. The king stood too, but expected only a peck on the cheek. Surprisingly, Antonya threw her arms around her father, and held him tight. “I’m sorry father, and please don’t think that I hate you! It’s just at times that I don’t like you, or disagree with what you say. But mother says I have your temper anyway. She laughed and moved away from her parents.

“My daughter, I think it’s time you headed off to bed. You’ll have a big day tomorrow, and we must go and get some new gowns for you to wear in Moscow. Your uncle is here for one more week, and then you will leave together.”

Antonya kissed them all lightly, and ran to her room. Finally! She breathed out, as she collapsed on her bed. A trip to Moscow!


Princess Antonya lay back on her bed after returning to her room, pulling Alexandre’s coat tighter around her shoulders. It smelled so sweet. He was so sweet. How often had Velibor been this sweet to her? How often had he cared about her in these small details? He hardly noticed if she was cold, let alone acknowledge the fact that she was royalty. Yet here was royalty, someone at the same level as her, and he treated her more kindly than Velibor ever had.

Tears swelled up in her eyes, as she looked back on her life with Velibor, comparing every detail with the Tsar’s son. Velibor only talked to her when he felt like it, only courted with her when he wanted. He didn’t care if she wanted to talk to him, if she wanted something. How could he have been so cold and she so stubborn and blind not to see that? She cried harder, and went to sit on her window sill, despite the night’s chill. Staring out into the clear night, she remembered all the times her and Velibor had sit in the courtyard at home staring up at the stars.

“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!” His words returned so clearly to her, the last words he spoke before she left. And look what had happened. She left, news spread that he had filled in his time with various castle maids, then he was sent away to war, only to die within his first day there. Everyone had tried to console her, but who was she grieving for? Herself? Velibor? Anyone? Crying out to the stars, she realised that she had grieved for nothing other than the understanding of just how much of her life she had wasted with him. He never once showed that he truly loved her, yet how much had she done for him?

Suddenly, she awoke to herself and discovered she was cold. She moved back inside the room, and lay down on her bed. Still dressed and wearing Alexandre’s coat, she began to wonder. How sweet Alexandre was! She smiled to herself and began to think of him. Such a hard, masculine, pale face, yet brightened and softened by those hypnotising, angelic green eyes. Framed by untamed, dark brown hair falling softly against his face, supported by shoulders and such strong arms. He looked so small and slender from a distance, yet how strong those arms were. Hands that were calloused with hard work, yet that smooth skin that was characteristic of royalty. How she would love to have those arms around her again, those hands holding her face; to stare into those eyes, and know that she would be allowed to look into them for the rest of her life and know they would be looking right back at her lovingly.

At what time she fell asleep, she did not know, but she awoke early, lying on the bed still dressed and wearing her jacket. Something felt different about the room, and she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Slowly she sat up, and then rose to the basin to wash her face. The water was so cold! She returned to her bed, and sat on the edge, staring out the window. Suddenly something moved behind her and she sensed it from the corner of her eye. She turned slowly, only to see none there. She stood, and walked to the window, feeling slightly disturbed.

“Aargh” came a cry from behind her, and before she could turn around someone came running towards her, knocking her to the floor, and holding her fast. The person was a tall man, and a moment of silence passed between them, before he burst out laughing. She could tell that laugh anywhere. “Cristian! I’m warning you get off me now! Please!”
“Alright, alright!” he said, jokingly. “What were you doing at dinner yesterday? Last time I talk to you, you said you didn’t want to see any of us again! You sleep for ages you know that? I’ve sat there in that chair, waiting for who knows how long, just to say hello to you my cousin. At least you’re not depressed now!” He was rushing to get all his words in before she spoke, overjoyed at the fact that his cousin was coming back to him.

Cristian lived at the castle with Marco, his mother having died in childbirth and his father at war while he was still young. Marco had adopted him. Ever since then, he and Antonya had become very close, he being two months older than her. “Wow Cristian. Great way to wake me up. I’m so impressed!” exaggerated Antonya.

“Ha ha ha, yeah, at least I was not the one who woke up in the Tsar’s son’s best jacket! Just wait until Father hears about this!” He shot back, jokingly. “If it’s a fight you are looking for cousin, you’re searching in the wrong fields.” She shot back blankly. He laughed and then walked out of the room.

She rose and went to her wardrobe, in an effort to find something nice to wear today. Sifting through her gowns one by one, she only got more frustrated with each gown she saw. Every dress had been something Velibor had liked, not her. He had picked them out, he had told her to wear them, he had purchased them even – but with whose money? She picked out a light blue gown in the end and fixed her hair quickly. After a long struggle finding her shoes, she put on her silver coat, picked up Alexandre’s coat and left her room.

She walked slowly through the corridors, taking in every detail, as if she had never seen them before. As she passed by the windows facing the central courtyard, she saw Marco in deep conversation with Alexandre, Cristian standing close by. Cristian noticed her in the window, and a mischievous smile brightened his otherwise solemn face. She scowled, and continued walking faster towards the kitchen.

The cooks were surprised to see her standing there, having never set eyes on her yet during her stay so far. Every other time it was hard to find Princess Antonya anywhere else. The first place most people came to look for her was the kitchens. The head cook smiled, and greeted Antonya with open arms. “My Princess! You’re alive! I was beginning to think that something severe must have happened to you! Usually when you stay here I have to call the guards to remove you from my kitchens, even when I was in Serbia! How are you my little darling?” His warm smile and the delicious smells coming from the cooking food behind him lifted her spirits immediately, and she returned his embrace. “Oh Andrei! It has been so long, and I have missed you so! The food has not been the same since you left us at the castle! I am good, but sooo hungry! I overslept this morning, and the first thing that came to my mind was your wonderful fresh bread straight from the oven, and the warm, sweet tea that you always made us in the morning…if you have time to feed me?”

“Oh Antonya, my princess, you have not changed a bit! Of course I will make it for you, and straight away too, although I’m afraid the milk won’t be as fresh as the morning is getting on…why did you sleep late today?” he inquired. How she missed the company of trustworthy Andrei. All the times she used to spend in the kitchen with him everyday, listening to his stories, telling him everything. He was like her grandfather. She told him without hesitation of all that had happened since he had left the castle. He left just after she had met Velibor. Antonya told of how she had loved Velibor, how her parents didn’t think good of it at all, Marco’s visit, how she ended up here at the castle; but she didn’t tell him of Alexandre. Something inside her told her it was a bad idea.

He placed a tray of bread and a pitcher and a glass for her tea next to it. She smiled, and he laughed. “Now, if I remember correctly, the only thing you would eat with your bread was strawberries from Lukas’ garden?” She laughed and nodded, feeling the joy that comes with being around someone that knows you well. “These aren’t as good as Lukas’, but I would say they are very good, princess. Try one!” He placed a bowl of glorious, red strawberries in front of her, and she picked out the biggest one. “I’ll hold you to word, Andrei! Let’s see…” and she placed the strawberry in her mouth.

The window of the kitchen faced the central courtyard, and Alexandre was looking through it trying to figure out what the beautiful smell was. Then he saw Antonya. She was laughing and joking with the cooks. He smiled to himself, but the moment was only brief as Cristian walked by. “Friend! What are you smiling so gaily at? I almost mistook you for one of those drooling men, the ones that drool over my cousin.” “Well, well, Cristian,” hinted Alexandre cheekily “it sounds almost as though you are making out that you know things about me that I myself don’t even know yet.” “Cristian, I know a lot of things that you don’t know, and vice-versa. Why do you mock me?”

Cristian bowled over in laughter, and gestured towards Antonya, who could be seen perfectly through the window receiving a bowl of strawberries from the cook. Alexandre froze as he watched her pick out a most perfect strawberry and place it in her mouth, biting slowly and savouring the taste. His heart skipped a beat as she raised her eyes and looked out the window, staring straight back at him. His heart raced faster as he watched her finish the strawberry, and was only released from this spell when she turned around to finish her meal.

“So, Alexandre…how is my younger cousin today?” he jeered again, only to be met by Alexandre’s distant eyes. “I don’t know what this is, Cristian. Why do I feel so different around her than I do when I was with any of the other women mother and father had set out for me? Why am I like this every time I see her; every time I hear her name?” He gazed out towards the distant hills, questions racing through his mind. Cristian laughed, and said “Well, when she returns your coat maybe you can ask her.” And he walked towards the gates to go to town.

Andrei and Antonya were in the kitchen, and she had decided that he was truly right about these strawberries. Having finished her breakfast, she stood and embraced Andrei again. “Andrei, if you don’t mind, may I have a bowl of these strawberries for my room? They are so juicy, sweet and delicious! I love them! They’re just like home! Maybe Lukas works here in secret too?” He laughed at her, and then took a silver platter from the pantry. “Try these princess, and see how they taste. If you like it then I’ll send up the tray soon, after I make your favourite sauce to go with them.” “It feels so good to be around childhood friends again Andrei – you, Cristian, Marco! Thankyou so much!”

She took a strawberry from the platter, and turned to face the window having heard Cristian’s mocking laughter from the courtyard outside. She was blinded by the light for a while, as the sun shone right through the window. She bit the strawberry just as her eyes adjusted, and saw Alexandre staring at her from the courtyard. She finished the strawberry and turned around for another. Andrei laughed again. “So you have met Alexandre? A fine young man, if I might say so. Are you not staying today princess?”

Without realising it, Antonya had begun walking towards the door. “I’m sorry Andrei. I’ve gotten into such a bad habit, though I’m sure you’d call it good, of not staying in the kitchen all day ever since you left to cook for Marco, and I met Velibor. I’d stay today but I must find some more clothes to wear. Everything I have I either not warm enough or too warm for Russia, and it is all getting a bit old.”

“Well then princess, when you return, there will be a beautiful platter of strawberries awaiting you in your room! Have a good day!” He waved her off with a smile, and she ran up the stairs and through the corridors to the banquet hall in search of Marco. He wasn’t there, but the servants there suggested the western courtyard, the one leading onto the orchards, as he often spent time there. She thanked them, and slowly made her way there.

As she strolled through the corridors, she walked past the southern courtyard, and felt a sudden desire to walk there. Deciding that she could talk to Marco during lunch, she walked through the first gardens in the courtyard. Seeing her window she smiled, and found the tree against which she had first seen Alexandre standing. She walked up to it, and sat on the chair just underneath it. She let her mind wander, enjoying the beautiful, tranquil environment of the garden. The leaves rustled behind her, but she didn’t think anything of it.

Suddenly two hands grabbed her shoulders, and held her in a tight embrace. She was taken by surprise, but felt no need for panic. “I knew you’d come sooner or later. I’ve been waiting in the courtyard for so long, but not once were you in your room. You have no idea how cold I was without my coat.” She didn’t need to turn around to see who this person was. That hypnotising, Russian accent and those mystifying green eyes were implanted in her brain. Realising she still held his coat in her arms, she held it out for him and he sat next to her on the bench.

“Sorry to keep you waiting Alexandre, you should have said something!” She was looking up at her window, and saw a servant place the platter of strawberries in her room. “Alexandre, do you like strawberries?” “Antonya, what did you say?” He replied, not having heard a single word she just said. “Do you like strawberries? I love them.” He pondered this thought for a while. “I don’t mind them…though I can’t say I’ve ever eaten them that much.” “Well then. I’m cold. Let’s go.” He stood, grabbed him by the hand, and ran with him to her room. She took a shortcut that she had discovered the last time she had stayed in the castle. Alexandre had never been this way before.

He ran a little slower, just behind her, in order not to get lost; though that was not the real reason. He could watch her all day. He felt so at peace with her, so calm. He felt he could be himself. Maybe it was just a thing about these Serbians, as he had felt mildly the same way with Cristian and Marco, but nothing as strong as what he felt with Antonya. How fit she was! He thought to himself, as they ran up a flight of stairs. She ran up the stairs with ease and still had energy to go, though Alexandre was beginning to tire. She noticed him falling behind, and stopped. “Wow, I guess Cristian was right about you!” he said, in between breaths, and she smiled. “Sadly,” she admitted openly “my annoying older cousin just happens to be right about a lot of things, as much as I like to disagree.” “I’m with you on that one” he said, and she reached out for his hand and walked with him the rest of the way to her room.


Marco left the throne room, and Vladan stood up and began pacing. What have I done to cause all this? He paced and paced, until Queen Ann entered the room. Vladan didn’t hear her enter, as she sat on her throne, next to his. He felt her presence in the room then, and went to join her.

“What has happened to make you so distressed? You know I worry about you so much when you’re like this, Vladan. The servants that were attending for you sent for me straight away when they saw you pacing around in that manner. They care for your wellbeing too.” She lay her hand on his arm, and his eyes met hers.

“My love, I’m not sure I can do this. I have just put everything into Marco’s hands – you know how much Antonya adores him. He arrived not long ago, and came bursting in to see me. How grateful I was of his arrival. Then Antonya stormed in, and now he believes just what I mean about her. He promised to do something, but I am beginning to regret this decision. What kind of father am I that I have to turn to my younger brother for help?” Lines of worry creased his forehead, and his eyes began to swell with tears. She reached up and stroked his face.

“Darling let us walk and talk about these things that trouble you, for sitting here will only satisfy the eyes of prying hearts. Come.” She drew him out of his throne, and winding her arm through his, she led him down the corridors to the library. A fire was on in the room, and no one but a few servants tidying the books were present. She dismissed them, and led her husband to the chair closest to the fire.

“Vladan, do you remember when we first met? No one approved of our love, and I’m not sure many people still do. By blood you had right to the throne, but by blood I had right to nothing. Yet we had love for each other, and that seemed to hide away the problems of the world. I’m beginning to think that maybe, we should just let Antonya have Velibor, as much of an ignorant man as we find him. She will learn her lesson sooner or later.”

“But Ann think of the fate of the whole country if their desired marriage comes to pass! How could I let my beloved, beautiful daughter, and in turn my wonderful Serbia fall into the arms of such an arrogant, insolent young boy? I am ageing and must soon leave the kingdom to someone, but of whoever I leave it to I vow it WILL NOT BE HIM! I couldn’t bear it.” He stood, and made to start pacing again, but she grabbed him by the arm and stopped him.

“Well I’m sorry your highness,” she cut him off “but I love you, much the same as I love my daughter. I think we should let her do this. He’s going to end up going into the army sooner or later anyway.” She had tears in her eyes, having seen the amount of stress all of this was causing her husband, and how the stress was slowly ruining him. “My dear,” she softly called “maybe what we should do is ask Marco to take Antonya with him?” her voice raised slightly, being suddenly inspired by this new train of thought. “We can see just how strong her love is for Velibor, how genuine and just how much he loves her in return, and it will give you a break from all these pressing matters. Yes, my love, I see how much pain all this nonsense is causing you.”

“Sometimes, I wonder where I would be without my beautiful wife!” He exclaimed, a new light on his face. He leaned in and kissed his wife on the cheek, having sat back down next to her. Silence filled the room as he thought about this idea. “Yes, Ann, I think it will work. Hasn’t she always begged to be allowed to stay with Marco for a few months at the least? Well, I still have some considering to do, but I much fancy your idea. I love you so much Ann. How long shall we send her away for? Maybe two weeks – long enough to test her love and his, but not long enough for her to totally torture all of Russia, and ruin our allies with Russia.”

“Oh Vladan, sometimes you amaze me profoundly. But we’ll have to see about this. When shall we break it to her, about our choice?”

“Let me talk to Marco first, and then my wonderful Ann, we shall see how life fares from there.” Immediately he stood from the room, with an air of new-founded joy surrounding him. He smiled at her, and then walked out. Ann sat in her chair for a little longer, then too exited the room to go into the courtyard.

That night in the banquet hall, Marco and Antonya entered, but Velibor was nowhere to be seen. Vladan was slightly shocked by this, but nonetheless continued with the night. A beautiful feast was served in honour of Marco arriving. As the meal began to come to a close, Velibor was no to be seen anywhere in the room. Noticing how his daughter seemed slightly wounded by this, Vladan decided to address the court.

“Who has seen Velibor the knight today? He has not graced us with his presence this feast?” He commented gently, not intending to make accusations of any sort. A few of the ladies laughed, and the general spiked up. “Perhaps he has decided, your royal highness, that the army holds great proposition for him!” The hall roared with laughter, but died down quite quickly after seeing the king’s face. He was not amused. “And who are you to be joking so luridly, General? For surely if he’s packing his bags then shouldn’t you be too? A king always keeps his promises!” The halls laughter grew even louder, much the same as the general’s face went bright red. Antonya and Marco hadn’t heard a single word of this, but Ann had taken note of everything.

“Maybe, my dear husband, and for you too general, the subject should be changed should consequences arise from this conversation that none desire.” “Yes your highness” mimicked the king and the general in unison. Vladan thought this was quite funny, but decided against that move quite quickly. “Oh, Ann, I was just trying to fill in for the jester that seems to have not shown up today. What happened to our jester?” Vladan called to one of the butlers standing near-by. He smiled at the king and answered “You had him fired, your Highness, if you recall.” “Oh, yes, I see. Thankyou.”

Antonya had heard the last part of the conversation, and stormed angrily out of the hall. Marco followed her, determined to discover the reasons for her anger (she had been short-tempered all day). Eventually he found her, sitting in her room crying softly on the bed. “Oh, Marco, I truly thought father meant it when he said he would try not to bring up these matters again.” “What matters?” soothed Marco. “The jester was fired because he insulted Velibor and I. I thought it was just honest fun, but Velibor as truly offended. Vel thought he was suggesting that he was just using me to become the next king, in a story he told. I thought it was just honest fun, for he jokes about everyone. Velibor got angry at me when I said I wasn’t offended at all, and it was from that point on that mum and dad have disliked him. I admit it was irrational of him.”

Marco sat there, looking out into the darkened courtyard, thoughts drifting in and out of his head. Just then one of the butler’s entered the room, and addressed Marco. “Sire, the King has requested your presence in the Library, when you are ready. We’ve been looking for you everywhere!” “My apologies,” laughed Marco, at the thought of them running around trying to find him. “Please inform the King that I will be with him soon.” The butler left the room hastily.

Antonya noticed how Marco had been thinking, and pleaded “Please Marco, will you let me return with you to Moscow? I want so bad to leave this place. I love Velibor, but things are starting to get out of hand. I can’t take it much longer, and I know I’m causing father so much pain, but I don’t know what to do! Please!”

“I tell you what” he said tenderly, reaching over and cupping her face in his hands “I will go now and see what you’re father wants, and I might, just might, ask him if I can take you back home with me for a while. How about that?” A smile lit up the princess’ beautiful face, and Marco laughed.

“But promise me you’ll smile in the meantime?” She nodded, and he walked out of the room.


She was dressed as a princess should be, and walked to the window once more to glance up at the sky. What reassurance can be found there, she thought to herself; there’s nothing but grey clouds and drops of rain. A knock was on the door, and she called for them to enter. Her maids-in-waiting, five of them, were at the door. They had heard of the Princess’ desire to dine with everyone tonight, and came to see if she was okay. The looks of shock across there faces as Antonya greeted each in turn were priceless. I shall remember this, she thought to herself; gone are those faces of pity, replaced with self-pity that I have returned. None of them are truly glad I’m back. Oh well.

The maids-in-waiting escorted her to the dining hall, where a marvellous feast was being held. So much she had missed out on, for today the Tsar and his family were dining with her Uncle Marco. She greeted everyone with a radiant smile, and made a vocal, sincere apology to all. She was seated in a place of honour next to her uncle, and the son of the Tsar who was still yet to enter the banquet. Next to her uncle sat the Tsar and his wife. How beautiful she was! They each greeted her and kissed her, and then they were seated. As everyone began to eat, the Tsar’s son took his seat, but she didn’t notice him. She leant into her uncle and apologised to him for her disgraceful presence. “Marco, I don’t know where to start! I’m so sorry that I haven’t come out of that room for a whole week, and instead of being here to greet your guests with you like a good niece should, I’ve disgraced you with my selfishness, and hence here I am today…’ But he dismissed it, interrupting her moment of recollection, “My dear niece, I know what it is like to grieve, and I tell you that it is nothing unearthly that you have been doing! Do not apologise! It is only natural that you would be upset, and I am just ever grateful that you chose to keep your bad moods confined, and that you chose not to take you life in defeat, but stand up and fight in your realisation of the fact that you are better, you can do better! I love you Antonya! Now enjoy this beautiful food, have some wine and please, have a wonderful night my star!”

She turned to her plate, and began to put food on it. Whilst in the middle of eating, the Tsar’s son began to cough. She hadn’t noticed him yet, but when it became apparent that he was choking, she immediately gave him wine. “Drink! Drink! Quickly, and don’t just drink a little bit! Would you rather wake with a swollen head tomorrow and live a thousand years; or die today for the sake of keeping sanity? Drink!” The Tsar’s wife rushed from her seat to be by her son, and the Tsar looked on, bemused. “My, my! Your Highness what a sense of humour you have!” Marco and the Tsar were laughing, same as with almost everyone in the banquet hall that had heard her. Realising that her son was fine, his mother composed herself and took up her seat next to her husband. Seeing the empty glass next to him, Antonya refilled the son’s glass, and in turn filled up her own. Finally finding his voice, he decided to speak. “Thanks so much, talk about a life-saver!” He laughed nervously, and began to eat. She looked at him, puzzled as to why he looked familiar. That messy, yet in it’s own way neat, dark brown hair. Where had she seen it before?

The Tsar’s son took a sip from his glass, and noticed the princess staring at him. “Are you…..” he broke off. Could it be? He was so sure it was her, the beautiful girl from the window, with those mysterious hazel eyes…it was her! The princess looked at him as he began to speak, but heard nothing as her whole attention turned to those eyes. It was him. It was the young man from the courtyard. Those deep, dreamy, almost hypnotising green eyes. “I…you…you’re….” she was lost for words.
“You’re the girl that was sitting in the window this morning, and you stared at me for ages. How come I’ve never seen you around here before?” He rushed, trying to cover up for the awkward moment. “I’m Princess Antonya of Serbia, staying with my uncle Marco for three months. I’ve been here for two weeks, though I’ve been in my room for almost the whole time. What’s you’re story?”
“I’m Alexandre. My father is the Tsar of Russia. I’ve pretty much grown up here in this castle. My parents just love it here. The southern courtyard, the one that your window faces, is my favourite courtyard. It’s so quite there, and that’s where I found you, I guess.”
“Wow. Well I sure am glad I met you. I owe you so much, for you helped me understand just how much dishonour I was causing to my uncle and Serbia. Staying in my room for two whole weeks when I am a guest here, and not even having the courage to stay for the entire welcoming feast that was held in my honour.”
“That truly is a story, but you are not in debt to me. The least you could do is accept my friendship…so that next time you see me in the courtyard or I see you in your room, you will have the heart to converse with me and much the same with you!”
“Alright then. Sounds fair enough to me.”

Conversation ceased form there, as entertainers came to the court. As they ate and drank, dancers danced and musicians serenaded them. The banquet came to a close, and many people sat there talking and drinking more wine as the tables were emptied, and people began to dance. Alexandre stood, and addressed the princess. “Your Highness, may I have the honour of a dance with you?” She laughed at his formality, but noticed he was sincere. “It would be an honour truly too great for me, yet I accept.” He offered her his hand, and she took it gladly. Together they danced and danced the night away. Marco was truly pleased at this sight, and the Tsar was delighted to his son finally courting a young girl of class.

“You know, Marco my friend, it has been such a struggle to get Alexandre to find a girl that he likes, let alone he find one for himself. Who knows where this alliance may take us?” Marco laughed at the Tsar’s remarks. “Oh truly, my great friend, what an alliance it would be! But I wouldn’t place high bets on an early horse just yet. My dear niece is quite unpredictable at times, though I wouldn’t put it past her. She is such a beautiful young woman now, isn’t she? I think the last time you may have seen her here in my presence would have been six years ago, maybe.”

“We saw her two years ago didn’t we Ann, my love? When we went to visit King Vladan on his celebration of 25 years as King of Serbia?”
“Yes, sweet, I think so. But wasn’t she courting with that young man Velibor? What has become of him?” Putting his words carefully (the tsar’s wife was renowned for her talk), Marco explained of how Vladan did not approve of Velibor, who was a soldier. He in turn ended up getting taken to the battlefield three days after Antonya had travelled to Moscow, and died within her first week of being here. “Oh my, that must be why we are only now being acquainted with her. The poor darling, she must be so heart broken. At least she is smiling now. Though from what I remember Velibor was a very ‘up-front’ man, in a polite way of putting it Marco.”
“I don’t know, Ann, for I never actually met him in person. But my brother is not known for doing things without reason – there is always a good reason and lots of thought behind everything he does.”
“I do agree Marco. By the way, how is that war going that Serbia are currently fighting? Last I heard you held the upper hand quite well.”
“My good friend I would not be the best to ask me about those affairs much, but from what I hear, defences fell for a bit a few weeks ago, but Serbia regained control. The last time Vladan mentioned it, the war is expected to finish by the end of the year, should they continue to be victorious.”

Antonya and Alexandre had since moved outside after their dancing, to cool down and walk a little. They ended up in the rose courtyard, on the east side of the castle. Alexandre motioned for Antonya to sit on the bench, and he sat next to her.

“Well, your Highness you are truly a spectacular dancer. I might engage in the endeavour to have your hand in the dances every night if you’ll allow me to!”
“Oh Alexandre I haven’t had such fun since, o since, I don’t even know!” She smiled at him, and he looked into her eyes. He stood for a moment, and walked behind her.
“Will you walk with me you Highness?” he wished that tonight would go forever, and they could run away together, but what if they got away and she turned out like every other girl his father had tried to give him? She stood, and sliding her arm around his, he led her through the courtyard.

“Alexandre, please, stop calling me your Highness. I have a name.” He turned and faced her. “But what am I supposed to call you? Princess?” she rolled her eyes. “ALEXANDRE! We’re friends are we not? Then what are titles between friends? Who cares if I’m the princess and you’re the Tsar’s son. I’m Antonya okay?” He laughed, and grabbed her hand. Shocked, he drew her close and put his coat over her shoulders. “Antonya,” he whispered in her ear “is that better? And why didn’t you tell me you were cold? Let’s head back so you can warm up, I feel so bad! What if you get sick?” He wrapped his arms around her tightly and softly scolded her. “When I have friends I like them to be warm and not sick, okay?” she laughed, and her smile lit up her whole face. As they came closer to the castle he released her from his hug, but would not allow her to return the coat.

“Beautiful Antonya, how do you think I would feel if you got sick all because I decided to take my coat back from you? Wear it, your Highness, and I shall return for it tomorrow.”