Marco was well renowned in Moscow as one of the richest traders. He was a Serbian by blood, brother to the king of Serbia. He lived in Moscow in one of the biggest castles ever built and on one of the largest pieces of land. The castle housed over fifty people, and then servants quarters. It was set in the most scenic part of Moscow, at the crest of a small hill, looking down on the town. Marco loved the peace and tranquillity it provided, but none-the-less nothing was like his beautiful homeland Serbia, and the castle that his brother now lived in. Every year he returned home twice, to the arms of his family, friends and beloved niece Princess Antonya.

On his last visit to Serbia, his brother had asked a favour of him. King Vladan had a deep love for his daughter, but lately she had gotten out of hand and felt he was soon going to run out of patience with her. Luckily Marco showed up, as Antonya and Marco were like best friends.

“Marco, my dear brother, you know that my daughter Antonya loves you dearly.” The king approached his brother during his last stay. “And quite so, my dear Vladan,” he replied, “for I love my little niece with all my heart, as I view her as one of my own children, or at least until I settle down and have children of my own. What have you to say about her?”

Vladan was stuck here, not knowing what words to say. He looked his brother in the eyes, and decided an honest talk would be the best one, so he presented it to Marco straight out. “You’ve heard no doubt of her Velibor, yes?” Marco seemed taken aback by this question. Many times had he spent with the young princess conversing and joking around, and for many of those conversations had she sought her uncle’s advice on her parents’ issue with Velibor. “Yes” he replied, reluctant to hear the rest of the King’s words. “Then I guess she’s also told you countless times of how my wife and I clearly disagree with her choice, and find him to be a most unsuitable suitor for our daughter.” “Truly, my brother,” Marco answered, “and I agree with you on most of your points. She complains often to me of how you don’t seem to love her in your dislike of this young man.”

The king let out a long sigh of relief. Many times had his younger brother been the cause of turmoil in the royal family, with many thanks to the not so good advice he offered Antonya. “I’m so relieved to hear that brother. As you may well know, Velibor is part of the Serbian army, and as we currently are at war, he is required to go and fight. The only thing holding us back from sending him is the fact that I couldn’t bear to have my little princess have her heart broken over this man if and when he should die, should the war be a cause of his death.”

Marco could tell straight away where this was heading, and knew he wasn’t going to like the result one bit. “I see, but you must understand that your daughter will have to experience some pain herself in order to learn the lesson that these experiences serve.” How Marco disapproved of his brother’s discipline on the princess.

Taken aback by this response, the king began to get agitated. “Wise words Marco,” he said coldly, “but she needs a break. We need to move her out of the castle, let her see a bit of the world…” “And let her know that there are other pleasures out there?” Marco interrupted, “other than Velibor? Honestly Vladan, what are you suggesting?” Marco began to raise his voice. “It sounds much to me like you are trying to force these two apart! You should be congratulating your daughter, and supporting her. Maybe this young man is wrong for her, but the only way she will learn in a situation like this is from experience! Did father hide you too away from the world like your doing to Antonya?” He paused for a second, expecting an answer, but Vladan just sat there with his head in his hands, speechless. What could he say to Marco? “No Marco.” Vladan replied, admitted an air of defeat. “But you have to understand, please. I may not be the best father in her eyes or yours, and I accept that. But I’m trying you know? I’m losing patience with her, myself, with everything. I cannot sleep at night because she has torn my heart apart in me trying to be a good father. What can I do? I’m asking for your advice, and if this is the advice you have to offer, then how will you help put this into actions?”

Marco was taken aback at his older brother’s cry of help. He stood in front of him, motionless, wondering what to do. How could he help him? Maybe to give him a break to think, but how would he do that?

Just before Marco could reply, Antonya came bursting into the room. In a flight of anger, she stormed right up to her father, not noticing her uncle, stared at him.

“Speaking of the devil” joked Marco “we were just talking about you!”
“Oh uncle! I had no idea you were here! When did you arrive?” A brief smile crossed her face and then glimpsing movement behind her, she remembered her father and all trace of happiness was gone. “You must excuse us, uncle, but I have a very IMPORTANT matter to discuss with my father. If you’ll allow us.” “Why of course my dear. I’ll talk to you later then. Goodbye brother and we’ll finish our conversation soon.” Marco walked calmly to the back of the room, but did not exit it. Vladan noticed this, and decided to make the most of this opportunity.

As soon as her uncle was a fair distance away from her and her father, Antonya began her questioning. “How could you father! How could you do this to me and Velibor? WHY?!” Marco took a sharp breath, having never seen this side of her. Vladan knew this was coming though, and replied blatantly “What have I done to so offend you so this time daughter?” Antonya stood before him in disbelief. After everything, and now he says this? “You said yes to the general to send Velibor to the war! You and mother promised me that you would never do this to me! I LOVE HIM FATHER!! Don’t you understand? The one man that makes me truly happy, and you are willing to send him off to be killed? WHY?!”

“SILENCE!” screamed Vladan. He had had enough. “Firstly, you do NOT under no circumstances have the right to just storm in here and interrupt me, especially when I am deep in conversation with someone. You owe a very sincere apology to your uncle, and I accept it to happen formally at the dinner feast tonight. IN MY PRESENCE. Secondly, I am your father. You do not have the right to just walk in here and yell at me. Am I one of the servants that serve you? No I most certainly am not. I am older than you, and of your own flesh and blood. If you wish to raise an issue with me you will speak to me calmly and formally, without accusation for something you cannot prove I authorised. Do you understand?”

“Yes father, but…” Antonya began, but the king cut her off. “Antonya, from where did you here that I gave the general the right to inform Velibor he would be joining the war – and for God’s sakes answer me calmly.”

Antonya looked at him, and decided not to fight. Maybe co-operation will at least gain her a little more time with Velibor. “Well,” she began “as is my daily practice, I went out for lunch with Velibor and then he took me for a walk in the castle gardens. We were talking generally, when he turned around and said to me that the general had told him he had better start packing cause the front line needs filling up. He was crying father!”

Pleased with his daughter’s approach to a civilised conversation, Vladan explained everything. “The General and I were having a discussion yesterday about the battlefront, and how it fares, and he said that quite a few more soldiers were required on the battlefront. We began drafting out soldiers from the castle, and young men that we knew would do fine, when the general mentioned your Velibor. I told him that I have given my word, and he said that it was disgraceful that this young man, who is a fully trained soldier up for possible promotion in the armed forces (apart from the fact that he is yet to take part in a battle) is not out there fighting, yet we are sending farm boys with no training whatsoever. So I told him – and take note of this Antonya, I did not promise him – should it come to my attention that the need for more soldiers on the battlefield becomes desperate, then I will order Velibor to fight – when it is so decided that the general must be present at the battle, then will Velibor attend. Until then Velibor is a matter of mine, not the general’s, and he will not speak of him again.
The general was merely issuing a warning in his own style and tone. Do not take it to heart, for we are on the upper hand in the battle at the moment.”

“FATHER HOW COULD YOU? You know the general HATES Velibor and yet you are happy to satisfy him in this way? FATHER! WHAT KIND OF FATHER ARE YOU ANYWAY? You love your kingdom’s fate more than the heart of your own daughter. I hate you father. I do.”

Antonya stormed out of the room, and tears fell from Vladan’s aging, hazel eyes. How much older he looked like this thought Marco. “See what I say brother? She cares of nothing but her own heart and her own fate, whereas I am stuck with the fate of this country, the heart of my ill wife, and then to put strawberries on the cake I have her too. I can’t do this. Not all of it. Not all together! …. And yes, Marco, I noticed that you didn’t leave the room, and I am truly glad for your presence.”
Marco was in shock. His once innocent, pure niece! How much she had changed, and how she was hurting her father, without even noticing! He came out from behind the pillars he was hiding behind, and walked up to his brother. “Vladan, I know some of this is my fault, and I vow that by the end of my stay I will have a proposal for you that will help. I am still yet to think about it, but I have 3 weeks left here, before business requires me to be back in Moscow. I promise you brother I will think of something!”

Vladan stood and hugged his brother. Such hope his words bought, and Marco was always a man of his word. Hopefully the proposition would serve everyone well, including Antonya. “Marco, my brother, I would be lost at times if it weren’t for you. Maybe one day you will move back to the castle with us? Who knows, but I trust you brother. Do what you feel necessary.”