1: The Calm in the Storm

(Chapter List, Map & Name Lists Here)

***

FADE IN.

INT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  SUNSET.

A WORKSHOP in the cavelike cellar off the castle’s main kitchen.  Two opposing doors to the keep and the garden.  

An elderly woman’s hands dutifully prepares tinctures, teas, and powders, then we see —  

SONYA DOMONOVA has moss-colored eyes and long white hair.  Her clothes are fine, but comfortably-aged like she is.

She checks a jar. Nearly empty.

 

SONYA (murmuring)

Willow bark…

 

A sigh for aching bones.  A glance up for nearby concerns.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

The woods it is.

 

From a pouch at her belt she extracts a small key.

The hall A mirror over a small dressing table with locked drawers stands by the door.  She unlocks the top drawer and we see —

Inside:  a weathered gusli (boxharp), music pages, and a red stone pendant necklace like a chained teardrop.  She picks up the chain and looks in the mirror as the stone glints.  

Sonya picks up the chain and looks in the mirror.  She throws it on and snatches up a basket, opens a closet for her red woolen cloak.  The hem’s silver brocade glimmers and she heads to —

 

EXT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  DUSK.

A BACK GARDEN, sparse, with a trickling fountain, cut by sharp topiary shadows.

Hooded, Sonya moves to a gate.  We see two red stones set in its frame glow as she passes. The stone glows too, with a ping in the air just before —

The cloaked figure looks at the moon, but it’s an elderly man.  Sonya’s disguise is absolute.  

She walks on, passing a signpost for Siny Wood and Merya, with traces of another violently removed.

 

EXT.  SINY WOOD.  NIGHT.

THE WOOD’S EDGE: Gathering clouds cross the full moon.  Sonya looks north to a thick line of clutching black:  Skomorokh Forest across the distant border.  She sighs.

IN THE WOOD:  Eyes blink in and out in the deeper shadows.  In tree-crossed moonlight, Sonya cuts bark and twigs from willows with a knife.  

She shuns a brook, but scolds its blinking eyes.

 

SONYA

(tenor) I’m not chelovna, just one of your own, out for my herbs.

She gathers some more.

 

SONYA (CONT’D) 

(tenor) Does not one of you have news from the Skomorokh? (beat) No? 

Lights flare nearby and men shout.  

 

MAN #1 (O.S.)*

We’ll still make Dolina Castle by morning.

MAN #2 (O.S.)

Get the cooking fires going!

 

Sonya peers to see a royal caravan circling to camp for the night, planting a yellow and green banner.

 

SONYA (tenor)

Merya’s people.  (to the eyes) Be kind to our guests now.

 

Rain rattles the leaves.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

The weather will do what it will.

 

EXT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  NIGHT.

OUTSIDE THE GATE:  Sonya’s feet splash through small puddles.   

The threshold, seconds later.  Again shining stones and a pingand the spell’s undone.  

 

INT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  NIGHT.

THE WORKSHOP

The door creaks open to the workshop entryway.  Sonya checks the mirror first, then shuts the door.  Behind it waits a nobleman, NIKOLAI ILMENOV, 60, the cynical equivalent to an evil advisor’s good twin.  He has an eye for detail and a persistent chest ache.

 

NIKOLAI

Ever convenient, your magic.

Sonya is startled, then annoyed. She speaks, locking away the pendant, cleaning her hands, setting a kettle.

 

SONYA

Lord Nikolai, if his majesty would forbid Sonya Domova from leaving the castle`, you shall have to let someone else do so for my herbs.  Stay for tea.

 

Nikolai eyes the kettle.

 

NIKOLAI

What was it this time?

SONYA

He’s going through my willow bark.  It’s the pain.

 

Nikolai’s zeal falters.  

 

NIKOLAI

How is he?

 

SONYA

Sleeping, mostly.

 

NIKOLAI

He hasn’t called for anyone?

 

SONYA

No, not even Liev.

 

He cringes into a chair.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

I know it’s hard to hear, but it can’t be long now.

 

EXT.  SINY WOOD.  NIGHT.

IN THE WOOD

The sleeping caravan.  The rain is past.  Torches sputter.

A wagon door opens.  Out steps PRINCESS SASHA (ALEKSANDRA) VASILEVNA of Merya, 19.  She wears a blanket across her shoulders.  

She tucks a parcel under her arm, glances skyward and slips off into another clearing.  

THE CLEARING

The blanket is lain, the parcel too.  She sits to unwrap it:  a polished gusli.  She tunes with wary glances, then a sigh and a prayer.

 

SASHA

Siny Wood, protect me tonight.  The rules of this land are not on my side.

A breeze passes.  Sasha listens, then closes her eyes and plays.  The watching eyes open and blink.  

Sasha is a musician in her blood and bones.  Stars brighten, clouds clear, the brook glistens.  The eyes exchange curious looks.  The moon seems more golden as the music carries.  

 

INT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  SAME TIME.

THE WORKSHOP

Sonya at work, Nikolai nursing tea.  At the distant music, they look up.

 

NIKOLAI

Is that music?

 

SONYA

It must be the Meryan caravan.  I saw them in Siny Wood.  

 

NIKOLAI

A musician for the engagement party?

 

SONYA

I would play for our Liev, if it weren’t for your silly law.

 

NIKOLAI

The Silent King still lurks in Skomorokh.  The King’s law is your protection, old woman.  

 

SONYA

Let’s not speak of unpleasant things, old man.  

 

The tease falls on preoccupied ears.   We leave them for —

OUTSIDE THE KEEP

A high wind carries the tune, spiraling upwards towards the top of the castle to —

THE HIGHEST TOWER

An open bedroom window looking north to Skomorokh, across a sprawling kingdom in miniature.  The moon alone is large, falling west.  

Its beam falls in the room like a knife, short of a royal bed.  The occupant is shadowed.  An iron sword leans against the side table, guarding a woman’s portrait and a silver ring.  The ring’s blue stone is nearly halved by a crack. The portrait is obscured by light.

 

EXT.  MEADOW HAVEN.  DAY. [A DREAM]

A dream as the music arrives. The music continues throughout

Summer haze.  Meadowgrass.  Pastel colors.  A woman and a man.  A woman’s laugh, gentle hand, smile.  A harp sits close by.  

Dissonance.  Gray colors, tinged red.

 

INT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  NIGHT.

THE HIGHEST TOWER

The moon watches the high tower, the faint music again perfect.

The one in bed stirs.  An aged hand reaches to grasp the sword.  A man sits up, breathing ragged, bent:  KING VIKTOR, who in his 60s looks older.  

With difficulty, he pushes himself upright.  The sword is a cane and he limps to the window.  He is still listening as we leave him for —

LIEV’S ROOMS

A lower balcony.  The song plays on.  A man, PRINCE LIEV, 20, stands looking out southward.  He basks in the music a moment, then turns to the dim room and walks to a card table.

Liev’s main room:  a scholar’s room with a desk.  Underneath is a box of letters.  Across the room alone stands a screen, mirror, and wedding clothes on a dummy for mending.  

Sitting at a card table is PAVEL, 21, Liev’s friend and Nikolai’s son, smiling and shuffling a card deck.

 

PAVEL

You’re not giving up, Liev?

 

LIEV 

(good-natured) I should.  You’ve won three already.  

 

PAVEL

As your best man, it’s my duty, you know.

 

LIEV

To keep me humble?

 

PAVEL

To give you a hard time.

 

After a glance, Liev sits.  Pavel deals.  They play.  

 

PAVEL (CONT’D)

What’s she like, this princess you write so many letters to?

 

Liev eyes his desk.

 

LIEV

Someone special.  

 

Note: As they talk, trumps are taken and given.

 

PAVEL

You have to tell me more than that.

 

LIEV

I’ve told you we met as children.  

 

PAVEL

You told me that when we were children.

 

Liev grins.

 

PAVEL (CONT’D)

It doesn’t count.

 

LIEV

You’ll know more tomorrow, just like everyone else.

 

PAVEL

Must be someone very special.

 

Liev’s smile widens.  

 

PAVEL

Ah —

Flourishing the queen of hearts:

 

PAVEL (CONT’D)

— so it is love.

 

LIEV

One of which I hope I’m worthy.

 

PAVEL (frowning)

Love is a gift, Liev.  It’s not a matter of numbers.

 

Liev’s next smile is a bit sad.

 

EXT.  SINY WOOD.  NIGHT.

THE CLEARING

Sasha stills the harpstrings.  She sits in thought.  Just as she looks up, the blinking eyes vanish.

 

SASHA

A hundred letters, and I still have to tell you.

 


Notes:

The posting is doing some odd things with spacing, so I’ve put character cues in bold as well and added italics to actions to make portions more clear.  Interestingly enough, it’s standard format for an em-dash ( — ) has spaces between it and text.  

Sounds and important information are underlined instead of italicized in screenplays, as is the word see, when the writer wants the camera to capture a particular something or other.  

(O.S.) stands for “Off-Screen,” not to be confused with (V.O.) which is “Voice Over.”

I know cards as we know them were long in coming, but I’m not sure who’d recognize the older editions.  

Questions:

  1. How’s the format? Readable? No so much?
  2. Are you interested, intrigued, bored?
  3. “S” names. Distracting?
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