The journey was lonely, long and arduous. Everything had been packed. Antonya had had appointments with Luis the dressmaker all week and consequently a new wardrobe was accompanying her to Gatchina. Despite the pain that she knew must come, her heart was on fire. She loved to travel. She was travelling alone in her carriage, Marco likewise, whereas the Tsarevitch and Cristian were together. The Tsar and Tsarina had ridden ahead into the night to make sure everything was ready at the palace. It was Serbian royalty coming to visit them after all.
They stopped shortly for lunch, the maids quickly bringing food for them. They ate in silence, and quickly too, for the weather was freezing. She was the first to finish eating, being bored of the silence, she retired quickly to her carriage craving warmth and needing to be alone in her own thoughts. It felt like forever that she sat there, staring out of the window, opened book in one hand, face leaning in the other. She faced away from the door, for fear of catching Cristian’s eye(or anyone else’s for that matter). She saw Cristian return to his carriage, and heard Marco noisily running into his. The snow had begun to fall softly again. But she had heard or seen no sign of Alexandre returning, and in the reflection of her windows she could see their carriage perfectly. The maids were running around picking up last minute things, and the head Coach’s whistle sounded. Suddenly the door of her carriage opened and slammed shut. She didn’t need to turn around. She could tell the breathing anywhere.
He sat by the edge of the door, not wanting to move too close to her. She looked very Russian in her new winter clothes. Luis had done a marvellous job. She stared dejectedly out the opposite window, her hazel eyes drinking the snow-white fields and perfectly-iced trees. Her lips seemed a purple tinge of red, must be the cold. In thinking of that, he shivered, only just realising how cold he was. Antonya turned around. “Cold, your Highness?” she almost murmured. He nodded, hugging himself. She pulled a large mink rug from the other chair, and he sat next to her. “No, come on the other side Alexandre, so that if I may fall asleep you can be my pillow” she said, not really listening to the words she was speaking. He laughed, and looked at her earnestly. “Antonya, there would be no greater honour in this world.” He winked, and she looked away, not sure what to do. Alexandre moved by the window, Antonya sat very close next to him, and he covered them both with the rug. He pulled it up to his shoulders, almost burying Antonya. She punched him, and pulled it back down again. “I didn’t realise you were there, Antonya” he teased. “Oh really” she rolled her eyes “would you like me to prove to you that I am here?” Alexandre couldn’t help it. She was so beautiful when she was angry. His hand reached up to her chin, stroking her cheek gently, and he moved forward, eager for the taste of her soft, cold lips. He held her tight, and she sighed, resting her head on his chest. She knew this moment would come. There was no way she could avoid it. They sat like that for a long time, just staring out to the changing landscape beyond.
Burying her hands in the blanket, she found her book, and decided for lack of anything better; she may as well read it. Her mother had chosen it for her as a departing gift: a memory of her homeland; so if she may ever feel alone, all she needed to do was read and remember. Smiling at the thought, she re-opened to the first page. “Shall I read it to you, Antonya? I would love to, if you like.” He said earnestly. “You can read Serbian, Alex?” shocked, Antonya sat up. “Do you doubt me? Of course I can!” he winked, taking the book from her hands. Holding her hand in one, and the book in the other, Alexandre cleared his throat.
“Once upon a time, there was a handsome young man called Alexandre, who fell in love with a stupid Princess called Antonya of Serbia. She was helpless, and he was hopeless. Together, they found help and hope, and everything was as it should be once more. The end.” he finished matter-of-factly, closing the book and hugging her tight. She moved away, taking the book from him, smiling mischievously. “Alexandre.” She stated “You. Can’t. Read. Serbian! I thought it was too good to be true!” He hung his head in shame, laughing harder still. “Of course I can’t read it! I’m a pure Russian, not Serbian, Antonya! Oh I love you!” “Well, that’s a shame to you, for I have perfect Russian AND perfect Serbian, and am a pure blood Serbian, what say you to that Alexandre? I think I win!”
Upon the last word, the carriages came to a halt. Rubbing the window to see outside, the night was fast approaching, as was another town. Marco and Cristian jumped into Antonya’s carriage too, to make room for more of the maids to ride inside, out of the cold. They would be leaving the carriages for the night soon anyway. So it was of no great deal. Alexandre went to stand as they came in. As they were seated, he sat towards the edge of the chair.
She smiled, waiting for him to sit back down comfortably again. Leaning back on him, Antonya opened the book at the first page, for what must have been the fiftieth time that day. In a sweet, bed-time story voice, she began to read. “Shall I translate for you?” Cristian laughed, noticing the look on Alexandre’s face. They all laughed, and Marco took the book, translating it into Russian as he read.
Darkness began its conquest of the sky, succeeding just as the convoy reached the town. Sara opened the carriage door to escort Antonya to her room, only to find her asleep. ‘Don’t worry about it Sara. I’ll bring her in’ Marco called from somewhere inside the dark carriage. ‘Are you sure, my Lord? The Tsarevich asked me to ensure that her highness reached her room safely and had a good night’s rest.’ ‘Yes I understand. I will make sure of this myself.’ To reassure her, he moved more into the light. Sara saw that it was really Marco, so she apologised and closed the carriage door.