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.