Antonya heard the carriage door close and felt that she was not alone. Alarmed, she sat up slowly and looked around. They had stopped for the night, and no one had woken her. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she noticed someone sitting in the corner. She searched silently for some way to lighten the compartment without wakening the unknown person in the corner. She slowly pulled at the curtains hoping the light from the torches outside would be enough. Just as the light began to enter, the person growled. ‘Antonya, close the curtains. They cannot see you in here.’ Recognising the voice instantly, she sighed and slowly re-closed the curtain.
‘Uncle, why are you in here? Why are we not inside? You should have woken me up’ she whispered. ‘It is not safe inside the tavern where they are staying Antonya. I have been in and walked the rooms, Cristian stays with Alexandre on the third floor, I stay next to the Tsar and his wife on the second level, and you are all alone on the first level. Not even Sara stays with you. There are numerous drunken men roaming the halls of the first and second floors. I told them you felt unwell, and that you and I would wait here until the passing of illness, when I would call for Cristian’s assistance and we would escort you to your room safely.’
Antonya was unsure of what to think. Surely for their plan to work, she had to be officially wed to Alexandre before they could take over the throne of Serbia. She rubbed her head, and pulled the blankets closer around her. ‘So I am to stay here the night uncle, is that what you think is the best thing to do?’ she yawned. ‘Yes Antonya. I will stay with you and keep you warm.’
Almost as soon as she laid her head back down Marco heard the soft sounds of his niece asleep. He sighed, drawing the curtains fully closed. Just as his eyes began to close, a soft tapping was to be heard on the door of the carriage. Cautiously, Marco peered through the curtains to see who was there. Cristian held Sara in his arms, her night gown torn and dirty. Instantly Marco shook Antonya to wake up, and opened the carriage door. Carefully lifting Sara inside, Cristian whispered a quick set of tasks to Marco and ran to fetch some water, food and bandages for Sara, and a guard to keep watch on the carriage. Antonya wrapped her blankets around Sara and held her tight, singing to her while wiping the tears from her cheeks. Sara sobbed silently, frozen in pain and shock.
Cristian returned within a few minutes, with a guard in tow. As he entered the carriage, he handed the guard a large bag of coins and ordered him to stay at the door to the carriage, allowing no one entry. He pulled out the items he had found after securing the carriage door, and lit a torch. Carefully, he dabbed at her cuts and bruises, cleaning them, and applying a soothing lotion to them. He bound up her left thigh and her left arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Antonya watched him, and noticed that his arm also had a large gash in it. Laying Sara’s head down gently on one of her pillows, she reached out for Cristian’s arm and had it cleaned and bound in no time. He sat up on the opposite couch, and Antonya threw him one of the spare blankets. He began to speak, but she stopped him. ‘Not now cousin, rest up. We have all day tomorrow to talk.’ She left Sara to the care of Marco, and sat next to her cousin, who fell asleep on her shoulder.
When they awoke, the convoy had already begun the days travels, and the sun was almost at noon. Sara changed into a new set of clothes, but Antonya refused to let her resume her duties. Sara looked to Marco, but he too nodded in agreement. ‘Sara, it is not right to talk in here yet about what happened, but you are not safe here, it seems to me, and we will not allow you to resume your normal ways until we see it is fit. I can have a short-temper with my staff occasionally, but that does not mean I am not merciful and compassionate. Stay with us.’
Lunch was distributed not long later, and the smell of food was what woke Cristian. As he began to rise, he winced in pain. Antonya and Marco gently sat him up. Tears began to fall from his eyes as he looked at Sara. Marco nodded to Antonya, and they swapped places. They began talking in Serbian in hushed voices, and Antonya tended to Sara. ‘It’s funny’ Sara said softly, ‘I would never ever have imagined that someone would have to tend to me. I am sorry Your Highness, please forgive me.’ Antonya stroked her forehead gently as she dipped a piece of bread into the soup to feed to Sara. ‘Sara, you are a friend to me, not a maid. All these things I gladly do to a friend. You saved my life once, now I shall repay the favour.’ She smiled warmly at Sara and resumed to feed her.
The girls’ warm spirits brightened Cristian’s sour mood, but the events of the night before still frightened him. ‘At least Marco knows what to look for now,’ he thought to himself, as he reached for an apple. He opened the curtains as far as they would go, and sighed. Cristian looked at Antonya, and then motioned for the convoy to stop. Taking Antonya’s hand, he led his cousin to the spare carriage that was supposed to be for him and Marco. From the window of his carriage Alexandre saw them leave and begged his parents to join them. ‘Fine, be gone’ the Tsarina grumbled.
Running after them, he reached the last carriage just before they closed the door. They all sat in silence while Antonya reached for the carriage’s blankets and handed them out. As she sat, Cristian motioned for the convoy to take off again, and he tied back the curtains by his window. Antonya pressed herself against the window and sighed. Sara and Cristian’s injuries; they surely had something to do with her. Every time something went wrong, the entire time she’d been here, it seemed to be connected to her. She felt like the root of all the problems, and as her breath fogged up the glass of the carriage window she began to draw sad faces on it. Her eyes began to water up, so she turned herself even further away from the others. She put her hands in the pockets of her coat and pulled it tighter around her, fingering the locket that she had kept with her since she had found it.
‘Antonya, YOUR HIGHNESS, I’m trying to talk to you’ Cristian waved his hands in front of her face. Antonya had no idea anyone had been talking to her. She mumbled in return. Alexandre grabbed Antonya’s arm and pulled her close to him. She hadn’t realised just how much she was shivering. Sitting in the Tsarevich’s arms, she leaned her head against his chest and began to fall asleep again. Cristian sighed, realising there was going to be no way to break the news to her calmly.
“Sara was raped last night,” his voice sounded like death in her ears.
“Cristian… are you being serious?”
“She lied and said that she was you, to protect you. Those men were really after you.”