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.