Not quite there yet? Here’s Chapter One.
EXT. TISHINA CASTLE. SAME TIME.
Galen reappears and sinks back against the stones. He shuts his eyes, but has trouble concentrating. He twists folds of his cloak in his fists, breathes, looks up at the high tower, then tries again.
Hold on, my lady.
His half-closed eyes turn to blue as he watches…
EXT. SKOMOROKH. SAME TIME.
THE GLUMY CAMP
Blue flowers open nearby.
(to herself) I’ve never played this all the way through.
Pavel winches again. She finishes tuning.
Veles, if you’re with me, please help.
She shuts her eyes and plays Sonya’s song. As she plays…
…the Stone shines. Eyes blink out of the wood, curious.
…dew gathers, sparkles, turns to mist. The eyes watch it, shivering.
…red light goes white and all color drains to gray, the fire turns snow white.
Sasha plays on, eyes closed.
The fog tightens into people, vague, childlike, curious, and the watching eyes widen, shrink, and draw back, bow in reverence —
— as VELES (ND) rises from the mist.
His dew-damp coat is sheepskin wool. He carries a harp and spear. He is manlike, but double-crowned with cattle and goat horns. Coiled around his spear, asleep, is a small white serpent with folded, feathered wings.
Note: The last chord of the song lingers throughout.
Sasha opens her eyes, looks up, stares shocked.
(a breath) Veles?
He bows to her, then gestures to a spirit that steps forward and gains clarity: LIZA (YELIZABETA) ILMENOVA, 40s, the woman from the Ilmenov family portrait.
She looks from Veles to Sasha, then Pavel. Recognition. She kneels and touches his forehead, then the marks. The deliberate touches remove the poison.
(maternal) Too soon, Pavlik…
Finished, she kisses Pavel’s forehead and looks up. She smiles at Sasha.
She stands and bows to Veles, steps back into the haze. The god nods to Sasha. The figures all turn to fog… mist… dew… then nothing.
The lingering note fades. The Stone goes red, dims, and color washes back.
Pavel stirs in his sleep, moans, sits up, falls back, exhausted.
(disoriented) What happened?
Sasha quickly wraps her harp, looks around. She quickly pulls out the Ace of Hearts.
A wooden groan. A path opens up on one side of the clearing. She sets down the card.
I have to go.
Wait, who are you?
A friend. Gleb?
As she walks away, the Glumy men slink and tumble out of the forest. Gleb follows her.
So soon, harper?
Take care of him, won’t you?
Pavel blinks, picks up the card, puzzled.
(weakly) Wait, who are you? Where’s the king?
I’ll be back!
She ducks into the forest. The trees groan shut.
For a minute there…
He shakes his head
It couldn’t be.
EXT. / INT. DOLINA CASTLE. NIGHT.
Swordsmen grunt and clang through drills by firelight.
Sonya crosses the courtyard with a basket. A servant lights torches by the gates.
Nikolai watches from a high window.
The fire’s low. Sonya enters from the back door, squints, shivers…
…watches her breath fog.
Worried, she hurries toward the hearth. Wood scrapes, she stiffens. A log falls on embers and sparks scatter.
Nikolai minds a poker.
It’s cold for spring, isn’t it?
Sonya sets down her basket. She doffs her cloak heatedly.
Where have you been, old man?
He leans on the poker like a cane.
I’ve been very busy, Sonya.
So I hear…
Kettle, cup, tea.
Drink up. You’re not as young as you used to be…
There are younger men to look after what matters.
Yet I’m the only one who looks after your health.
Nonsense, I’ve never felt better.
She snatches his hand, checks his nails, frowns.
He snatches it back.
It’s amazing what a man gains from clarity of mind.
If you want to call it that. Something’s gotten into you.
She chops vegetables. He sips tea.
How’s the princess?
The body and soul each have their own afflictions.
Nikolai pours himself a second cup, stands and leaves it.
(inspecting jars) Last week, it was a headache.
So it was.
And a few days ago, the servants mentioned a cold?
You’re diligent, as always, Nikolai. Viktor never appreciated it.
Nikolai pulls a full jar of mustard seed from the shelf. Sonya hears the seeds ping and her knife slows.
For colds… You usually use mustard powder for that kind of thing, don’t you?
The knife stops.
I remember, that winter Pavel was sick.
Everyone complained about the smell.
He puts the jar back, then he turns to walk pass her —
— snatches the pouch off her belt.
She follows. He takes out the key and tosses the rest back at her.
I know harper’s calluses when I see them, Sonya. I’ve already sent a dozen knights to look for her.
He unlocks the drawer, pulls it open.
Sonya’s harp is there. He glares. Sonya opens a hand and pretends not to notice.
Are you finished taking my things?
Nikolai almost returns the key…
…and sees an empty space in the drawer.
She’s in disguise.
You gave us no choice.
I don’t tolerate liars, Sonya. I guess war proves us all.
A crackle. Sonya turns and looks at the black-veiled mirror, snatches the veil off.
The glass is frosting over.
I do wonder what part the princess plays in all this treachery.
(turning back) What has happened to you?
No matter. I’ll find out eventually.
He beats a fist on the door.
This will be the last time you trick us.
Both kitchen doors creak open. GUARDSMEN enter, one with a torch.
(to them) Lock up this sorceress. She’s been aiding our enemies as a spy.
(stern) You’d lock up an old woman?
We’d lock up any traitor to King Viktor.
Angrily, Sonya brings her hand down on her harp. A deliberate discord, and the hearthfire and torch go out.
In the near dark she glares.
No man should be ruled by a dead king.
What have you done?
“As is the king, so is the kingdom.”
He slams the drawer and the mirror cracks. They all flinch.
(to the guards) Take her away.
They head out the back door…
Nikolai, you’re a better man than him. Don’t…
Every light in the castle has gone out.
Nikolai stands in the near-dark. Winces. His chest again. He shivers.
Viktor’s hand is on his back.
Don’t let her twist your thoughts, Kolya. It’s a witch’s way.
You really think she’s betrayed us?
He walks back to the table and picks up the teacup. Viktor melts back into his shadow.
Sorcery, magic, it’s all the same in the end, unless you believe in gods.
Nikolai puts the cup down, and leaves it.
Questions of the Week:
- Coming down towards the end, do the stakes feel high enough?
- Is the magic/sorcery dynamic of this world explained well enough? Should anything be added sooner?
- Scene transitions. How are they feeling? Natural? Jarring?
Notes for the Week
- I did some YouTube browsing when I first learned about gusliars. If you’d like a soundtrack while you read, feel free to visit any of the links below. The last two are from an album called Six Days of Spring, I’m not sure about the first.
- Facts about Veles in mythology: In the oldest Slavic texts, The Vedas, Veles (or Volos) is a trickster from the watery underworld who steals cattle (or in some versions a wife) from Perun, his rival in the sky. Their battles create the rain. Veles is a shapeshifter and generally likes humans. He’s modeled as a forest dweller, a shepherd, or a herdsman, and carries a spear and a harp. As the culture was Christianized, Perun became “Ivan” the Baptist and Veles became St. Basil. One interesting thing to note is that while European forest deities have wild horns like antlers, Veles has a crown made from livestock horns. The myths around him depend largely on region, some making him the chief creator god and others a simple forest keeper. The words veles or volos are likely derived from the word “woolly,” because of his clothes.
- Facts about Veles in this story: I read a number of online sources, among them this one and this one, as I was studying both old and new Slavic mythology. Since I had to choose one mythos to develop in this story, Veles made the cut as “god of souls,” not only for his association with harpers and the underworld, but also for his shepherdlike qualities. While in myths Veles isn’t always directly connected to death, the dew, mist and fog are associated with both him and souls. The aspects I chose to focus when I had to choose on depended on what fit the story’s themes, so his portrayal here is far from complete. Some aspects are invented solely for the purpose of this story. For example, the snake is an allusion to his ability to shapeshift into animals, and the rule of magic vs. sorcery is my own invention as a way of contrasting different uses of power.