Velibor and Sadif had become good friends. They had been staying together for a good week now. Velibor helped Sadif set a lot of things up around the farm, and the horses had actually started to like him. Sadif taught him how to ride, and although he was still not the best at it, Sadif thought he seemed natural at it.

Back at the castle, King Vladan was not happy. Reports had reached him of how his daughter was in Russia, and that was all well, her courting with the Tsarevich could mean great help from Russia in the war. But the war was not going too well. Ever since Princess Antonya had left for Serbia, and Velibor had died, it seemed things had spiralled downwards. He had put out the call for people to donate horses and food towards the war effort, and for more men to come forward. He’d expected some delay, but it had been three days already.

Bastian, a messenger from the king knocked on the front door of the house. It had been a long day, and he was hoping that a friendly woman would have some food for him, or at least some kind stranger to open the door and let him rest for a night there. But no, a rough looking young man opened the door. “Hey. What do you want?” “Umm, I’m a messenger from the great King Vladan, asking people to answer his call for aid in the war efforts. Donations of food, money, horses, anything useful, even men to fight are accepted. The King promises rewards for all those who offer him aid. Will you?”

Sadif stood at the door, not sure what to do. He asked Bastian to wait there for a second while he went to consult Velibor on this. “Vel, there’s a messenger from the king at the door, he wants aid for the war.” “Oh. So? Why you telling me?” Velibor started to get angry at the mention of what could have been his father- in-law. If this messenger had been around for at least the past four months, he would recognise Velibor straight away. Everyone who lived in the castle and the surrounding town knew him. Sadif saw his unease, and questioned it. “Are you still uneasy about the princess Velibor? You know, I wasn’t thinking of joining the war ourselves, and these horses are starting to get lazy from little exercise. What do you say we donate them?” There was a pause, as the idea processed in Velibor’s head. “Do you mind if I invite him in? He looks seriously tired and hungry.” Vel sighed, and realised the past was going to catch up with him sooner or later. “Yeah, I guess. If it gets too much I’ll just go to my room or something.”

Bastian was sitting on a fallen log just outside the house, throwing small pebbles from the ground across the garden. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to give up anything for this war. It must seem so unreal out here to these people. The only difference is the lack of men working in and around the fields, he thought. Not only that, but the country areas were already very poor. Not to mention the fact that if Serbia kept up the downfall the war would hit these people and towns first. They probably want to keep everything so they can make a quicker escape. Suddenly the front door opened again, breaking Bastian’s train of thought. “I bet you’re hungry, or something like that. Tired at least. Come inside and join us.” Bastian was surprised at this offer. The widows always offered, and the single mothers, but never the men. He was happy though. At least he would get some warmth and rest, and some food other than the bread and dry meat he had packed.

It was Velibor’s turn to cook, and the house smelt truly delicious. Sadif and Bastian were sitting by the fire discussing arrangements for the horses and food to be bought to the castle. Dinner was served soon after, and the trio sat in the dining room around the picture of the Serbian Royal Castle. “Isn’t he a good cook? Oh, sorry, Bastian, this is Velibor; Velibor, this is Bastian.” Sadif was laughing, enjoying his meal and the company he had, but Velibor had felt a sudden discomfort when he mentioned Bastian’s name. Something about him rang alarm bells in his head.

They finished their meal, and moved near the fireplace to talk more before bed. Velibor realised where he recognised Bastian – he was the messenger who used to run errands for Princess Antonya. Just the thought of her and his heart began to burn. Not willing to reveal himself, he stood up discreetly and excused himself from the room.

As soon as he was out of their sight he ran to his room and crashed on the bed. His eyes filled with tears as he realised how hopeless his life was to become. Forever running from representatives of the King, he would never know the life he used to have. He would never again see his darling Antonya. With that though his cries became uncontrollable, and he left the house through the door in the kitchen. It was pitch dark outside, but he didn’t care. What worse could happen to him, than the fate he had just chosen for himself? He walked aimlessly, having no idea where he was headed, until he was so weak that he collapsed in renewed tears upon the ground.

He woke, only to find himself in the middle of a strange field, not far from Sadif’s house. With swollen eyes he struggled back to the house only to find no one there. He entered the kitchen, washing his face with icy cold water. Sadif and Bastian had already eaten breakfast, but hadn’t cleaned up anything. He called out as he walked into the lounge, but no one was there. His searching became more frantic, looking in every room three to four times, calling louder and louder, trying to find them. It was a small house, where could they be? Running to his room, he threw on a coat and sprinted out to the barn to check if they were there. The horses hadn’t been fed yet, so he did that quickly, and looked around the barn for the usual signs of Sadif. His coat hung up, any of the horses coats groomed, but there was nothing. He moved back to the house, and sat in the kitchen looking for some sign of his friend. Deciding he was hungry, he moved to the cupboard to find some food. The cupboard was empty. Velibor ran to Sadif’s room and looked for the one thing that he treasured most. Aside from a few clothes missing, that was gone too.

Not a moment had passed when he began to hear screams from outside the house. Looking through the curtain, women and children were running passed the house. One woman came and knocked on the door. “I’m sorry” she said, startled that anyone had opened the door. “We are friends of Sadif, is he home?” Velibor looked at her, wondering how best to respond. “Sadif is not here” he replied softly, “he will be away for sometime. May I help you?” “Oh…” she hesitated “Maybe its better if we just go then.” “Are you sure? I am a very close friend of Sadif’s, I can help you if you want.” The lady turned around, paused, and looked at him. She had many little children around her, very anxiously looking behind her. “I.. You are not leaving to get away from the war?” Sadif froze, and everything finally clicked. A messenger must have come after breakfast, telling them to move quickly. Sadif looked at the lady. “I am not sure yet. Maybe I will help you with what you need, since I am alone. I didn’t know the war was coming. What may I help you with?” The lady broke down in tears, telling him her situation. They lived on a farm that was near the battlefield. The soldiers had killed her husband and taken the two oldest sons to fight in the war, telling her to take the children and run to safety. They had been running all night and most of the day, until she recognised Sadif’s house and sought help there. The war was quickly moving towards them, and all she was asking for was a place to hide. Sadif was rushing around the house, packing important things while she was talking. “Hmm. Sadif has no cellar here, so we will have no place safe to hide, and if the war reaches here they are sure to burn down the place. It is of no value. We must move. Quickly.”

The woman stopped pacing, and stared, thinking. “We have run all night and most of the day. We are weak, and very tired. You are best to leave us here. We will be okay.” He stopped rushing and walked to the fire place, looking for Sadif’s prized egg. He found it, but underneath it was a little note, scribbled.

Vel, sorry that I didn’t say goodbye, but the war is coming. You will read this eventually. Take whatever you need from the house and do what you have to. I trust you. Be safe my friend, hopefully we will meet again. Sadif.

Packing the egg safely in his small bag of belongings, he began towards the kitchen. Then he stopped. Looking back, he asked “Do your children know how to ride?” She was confused for a moment, but then understood. “Of course they do, except for the two youngest.” “Will you please take all the food that is of use to us and pack it in whatever bags you have brought? I’m going out for a second, I’ll be back quickly. Pack everything you need!” The woman smiled, thankful for his action in her inaction.

He came back with 5 horses, fully saddled up and ready to go. She had packed everything, and together they began saddling up the kids. He helped her onto his horse, handed her the youngest child, and jumped onto his horse pulling a young little boy to sit up with him. They galloped at full speed, Velibor doing his best to help the family. “Antonya, I’m doing this for you, I love you” he breathed into the air.