Bato ran down a long corridor, and waited at the end. “Mr Velibor you walk too slow! You will miss supper if you walk like that” he yelled, impatiently. The corridor seemed like a long entrance hallway. The right hand side had embellished archways, leading out to a balcony over the forest. From the great noise he heard he assumed there was a waterfall not too far away. “Like the hidden castle of the greats, the stories mama used to tell me” he whispered in awe. Bato, frustrated, ran up to him and grabbed his hand, and dragged him to the other end. Attempting not to trip, he ran with Bato. They approached an enormous set of doors, the moonlight accentuating the gold detailing on the beautifully carved oak doors. Together, they pushed one door open, and then he helped Bato to lock it with a long heavy beam.
Turning around, this room was even more beautiful than the one before. Long tapestries hung from the walls, depicting tales of mighty kings, hard battles, love and heroes. In between each tapestry a different coat of arms was presented on shields, with swords behind them mounted to the walls. Four shields in total, Velibor counted. He recognised the third shield as the coat of arms of the second king of Serbia. Walking up to it, he traced the image on the shield. “Antonya, my love, I will come for you” he whispered.
A tug on his coat pulled him back into reality, and as he looked down Bato stared up at him with anger in his eyes. “Be faster mister!” and he ran off, expecting Velibor to follow him. He made a note himself that he would revisit this room again soon, and ran after Bato. At the far end of the great hall were four thrones. To the left of the thrones was a small doorway, and behind that he could see the light of a fire. They ran through the door and were greeted by Maria and Elena.
It was a small room, without windows and only one door. The fire had been lit in the centre of the room, and surrounding it there were blankets laid out. Marius sat tending to the fire, and the other children lay about the room, eating out of small bowls what seemed to be a hot stew. Bato ran straight to join them, and Elena followed after him with his bowl of food. “You did well Bato” she soothed, and kissed his forehead. Velibor sat in one corner of the room, opposite the doorway, and closed his eyes. The rough stone wall behind his head felt coarse, but comforting. It reminded him of the stones of the window ledge in Antonya’s room.
Every night he would climb up to her window to watch her sleep, to be with her, to take care of her. She slept so still, and she seemed so fragile in her sleep. It took all his self-control not to leave the window ledge and wrap her up in his arms. How he longed to sleep beside her, to hold her body to his. Just to be with her.
It was a cold, but clear night the first time he climbed the wall in the courtyard. He had hoped she would still be awake, and had a basket of strawberries in one hand. As he reached the window ledge he realised she was asleep, but could not bring himself to leave. He crept across the room and stood by her bedside. He removed his glove to run his finger along her cheek, but withdrew as she shivered at his touch. His hands must have been too cold, he thought to himself. Putting his glove back on, he left the strawberries on her table and left for the night, not wanting to disturb her any further.
Velibor sighed as he recollected memories. It felt like so long since he had been in a castle. “Papa, papa!” someone tugged his coat, awakening him from his thoughts. “Papa,” he looked down, and saw Sasha, Maria’s youngest daughter “Papa!” Velibor laughed. “Yes, little angel?” he softened, wondering what was wrong. She gave him a hug, and a little flower. He picked her up and held her in his arms. “I love you Papa, don’t go away again!” she cried onto his shoulder, and Velibor comforted her, he was unsure what to do. Maria wandered over, smiling, and took Sasha from him. “Let me put her to sleep, and then I shall explain the situation to you. Marius said he would like your help, if you are willing, he is in the great hall somewhere.”
Sasha leaped out of Maria’s arms and ran to Velibor. “Goodnight Papa!” “Goodnight little angel, sleep well” he soothed. She kissed him on the cheek and ran after Maria to the other side of the room. Velibor smiled to himself, and walked out of the little room to allow Maria some privacy with the children. At the far end of the great hall he saw Marius, and walked towards him. “What have you found, Marius?” he questioned, seeing him poking eagerly at something on the floor. Marius smiled mischievously and beckoned him to come closer. Cautiously, he stood at Marius’ side, unable to see what had caught the elderly man’s attention. Lighting a torch, he saw it. The Serbian Royal Coat of Arms was at the head of an old tapestry which had fallen from its hangings. Wrapping his scarf around his mouth to stop the dust, he motioned for Marius to stand back while he shook the dust off and lay it out. Sewn into the tapestry was the entire history of the Serbian royal family, up until King Vladan’s father. Neither Vladan nor Marco had been added, but at the very bottom had been sewn an image of an angel, foretold as the saviour of Serbia. For some reason, the angel seemed to hold an exact likeness to Antonya.
“Young Velibor,” Marius said, drawing him out from his thoughts “as a child, I bet no doubts that you heard the old tale of the saving angel?” Velibor nodded. That is what he’d just been thinking about. Oh how, especially now in this time of war, did Serbia need their saviour. Tracing the outline of the angel, Velibor slowly began to notice that the angel also could resemble Maria. The more he thought about it, the more he saw similarities between the three: the saviour, Maria and Antonya. He turned to Marius, his suspicions aroused, only to find him replaced by Maria. “Can I get you anything? Maybe you are getting tired, it has been a long day and it is late into the…” before she could finish, Velibor cut her off. “Maria, are you related to the Royal Family?” “What makes you ask that?” she replied cautiously. Looking away, she began to step back, but Velibor caught her arm and pulled her towards the tapestry. “Who are you exactly, Maria?”
She couldn’t find the right words to say. What could she tell him? Could she trust him? Marius could be heard walking towards them from the other side of the hall. “Maria,” Velibor growled, “Answer me!” “Do not be afraid, my dear” Marius soothed her. “He should know.” “But Father!” Velibor spun around to face her. “Father?!” he yelled “I went out of my way to help you and your children, and yet you had your Father here all along?!” Velibor began to pace up and down the room. Walking up to the top of the room, Velibor sat in the King’s throne. If I hadn’t helped them, he thought to himself, this throne could now be mine; My Queen would be sitting beside me, not with that fowl Tsarevich. Antonya would be mine, this liar doesn’t need me, my princess thinks I am dead. His head was in his hands, and he began to cry. Maria walked up to him, and sat in the Princess’ throne. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I didn’t know if I could trust you, and in these times especially someone like me needs to take every precaution they can. I’m sorry I lied to you Velibor. Will you allow me to tell you the truth?”
Velibor avoided looking at her. He was not the least bit tired anymore. He was too angry for sleep. “You have until the sun rises to convince me of your truth. At least make it worth my while.” He stated, coldly. Together they lit a fire, and she began her story.