Larissa Palovski hurried through the closing marketplace, clutching a long black shawl around her face and long, dark hair to keep out the approaching Russian winter's bite. The vegetable traders were closing up their stalls or serving their last customers, not that there was much to sell, with the war shortages being what they now were. An old peasant woman gingerly proffered a fistful of coins to a turnip seller, and received a moulded specimen of food in exchange. The world she was now headed for was unimaginably different to the squalor of war-torn Russia now. Larissa reflected on how it had happened, that she, a lowly miller's daughter, and a member of the royal family had fallen for each other.

It had been a whirlwind romance, as they say. She had being temporarily working as a caterer at the Imperial Palace for a ball held by the Tsar for some reason or another, when she had looked up and caught the eye of Prince Wilhelm. He, not knowing that she was just a caterer wearing borrowed finery, took her for a member of the aristocracy and invited her to dance with him, and from then it had gone on. One could hardly refuse the invitation, she mused.

Prince Wilhelm paced up and down his room sulkily. He was in a real mess now the royal family knew what was happening. His father had given him until ten o'clock to decide what he was going to do. Wilhelm had two options available to him; he could terminate his relationship with Larissa, and face public disgrace once the details came out, or to flee for another country with her and give up his wealth. He decided he didn't much like the idea of either of them, but on balance the latter would be the best thing to do for all concerned - nobody disgraced, and he happy but impoverished. The large wooden door opened, and his father, Nicolas came in, as the ivory clock over the mantel chimed ten.

"Have you decided what you are going to do about her, my boy?" He asked, tapping his tobacco pipe. He was referring to Larissa. Wilhelm swallowed.

"I'm going to marry her and go to France, father." Wilhelm answered in the most dignified voice he could muster. He felt his ears growing warmer, but was relieved that he had made a choice. Nicolas seemed to take it in his stride, but his eyes betrayed a sense of disappointment.

"Wilhelm, if that's what you want, I will not stop you, but I must confess that I am deeply, deeply disappointed in you, son. I..." Wilhelm interrupted him.

"Pray, stop father. I, too, am sorry, but my mind is made. I would rather you didn't say what you are going to. I will leave and not tell anyone of what has transpired here." He knelt by the bed and pulled out from under it a large, old packing case that he had earlier prepared. "Goodbye, father" he whispered.

Now she was in sight of the palace, Larissa hurried down the cobbled street. She was nearly there, when out of the shadows stepped a tall, dirty man. He grabbed Larissa and manoeuvered her down an alley. When he removed his cap, Larissa recognised him as Boris Raloskov, a farmer who had asked her father for her hand in marriage, but so far not got it. She struggled to get free, not knowing what he planned to do to her but suspecting the worst but his grip on her arms did not loosen.

"Did you think you could hide from me?" Hissed Boris in Larissa's ear. "Your father has agreed for you to be my bride."

"No!" Shouted Larissa.

"I hardly think you have a say in it, my dear!" He sounded almost amused. "Unless, perhaps, there is another suitor?"

"Yes, that's right!" Said Larissa, seizing her opportunity to escape a marriage to this dreadful man. "Prince Wilhelm!" Boris let fly a tremendous guffaw.

"You, and Prince Wilhelm? What a sense of humour!"

"No, really!" She insisted. "I'm on my way to meet him right now!"

"Well, if that's the case", uttered Boris, deadly serious. "You'll have to marry the late Prince Wilhelm!" He produced a revolver out of his coat pocket and ran off quickly towards the palace. Larissa screamed, and then chased him down the street.

Prince Wilhelm had just finished saying his goodbyes to his family and stepped out of the palace gates, when he saw an ugly man running towards him with a revolver. He stood, frozen, as Boris pulled the trigger. Wilhelm gasped, and clutched his chest where the bullet had gone in. He collapsed to his knees. The last sight he saw was of the palace guards apprehending the man and of Larissa shrieking, then all went black.

By noon, large crowd had gathered in the square outside the palace, as the police took away Boris, and doctors carried away two bodies on stretchers to the morgue. A priest closed the eyes of the departed and prayed the last rites over their remains. One body was Wilhelm, the other one was Larissa - the shock had stopped her heart.

-----------------------

Thanks to: Boris Pasternov for the setting, Cinderella for the theme and Ernest Hemingway for the main characters dying at the end.