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INT. DOLINA CASTLE. NIGHT.
A BARE ROOM
The wake. Wailing. Rain. The body lies on a bench, cleaned and wearing plain white robes and a woven belt. All mirrors in the castle are veiled in black.
Sonya and Liev keep vigil as others come and go. She bandages his bruised wrist.
EXT. / INT. DOLINA FIELDS. DAY.
Rain and mud. Old mounds and less old stone tombs and headstones. Skomorokh bold in the distance. A mournful funeral procession to —
A leaking roof.
Mourners add coins and small trifles to the coffin, careful not to touch it.
Beside the effigy of the late queen-mother, Liev stiffly accepts murmured condolences.
The coffin cover is slid in place. Nikolai stares long after.
OUTSIDE THE TOMB
As mourners disperse, Nikolai stands with Liev, holding the iron sword. Liev studies the ring’s stone, which is cracked all the way through.
Liev draws a shuddering breath.
If you ever need me for anything, your highness…
“Liev,” please. You’ve been our friend so long.
(quietly) I must be honest with you, Liev, my heart’s full of unease. I feel like he’s still here, just behind me, looking over my shoulder.
(softly) I wish I could even imagine what that’s like.
A rumble like thunder in the distance.
I suppose we should be going, before…
A different rumble. Murmurs in the crowd. Nikolai and Liev see pointing fingers.
The tossing horizon of treetops makes a strange, wooden growl.
Is it… moving?
EXT. CHERNAYA RIVERSIDE. SAME TIME.
Like a flood, the forest spills across the river at a crossroads.
It surrounds a band of travelers, including a young HARPER. The aggressive grove is hung with vines of blue flowers.
The travelers look towards the river, hearing —
Hoofbeats. Armed horsemen ride down a widening path.
The forest tree roots weave a sturdy bridge that they cross.
Their leader is ANDREI LESSOV, 18. At his signal, they surround the travelers who were bound for —
THE BLACK CAT INN
Half dozen horsemen, some archers, race towards the trees.
Andrei looks pointedly at a flower. Archers aim. Vines weave. Arrows fire. All’s deflected.
Andrei turns from angry shouting. He lowers an ax at the harper.
You, are you a harper of Dolina?
(fearful) Yes, m’lord…
More arrows catch in the branches.
Come alone, and no one will be harmed.
From outside, we see the forest gather itself back across the river.
The riders and harper are gone.
EXT. DOLINA FIELDS. SAME TIME.
Nikolai and Liev still watch. A mist is coiling out of the murk around their feet.
(decisively) Sorcery’s afoot.
We’ll be needed at the castle.
(as they go) I’ll gather the nobles for the coronation.
(shocked) So soon? What about…?
This is no time for Dolina to be without a king.
Liev glances back at the tomb as they leave. The mist snatches at their ankles.
THE BLACK CAT INN
Outside a small aviary, a man hurriedly releases a messenger bird. It flies towards the castle.
EXT. / INT. DOLINA CASTLE. DAY.
A solemn coronation, mostly seen in pantomime. An ELDER sees to the rites. Sasha watches Liev. He casts an apologetic glance, but she smiles a little for him.
Long live the king.
Long live the king.
(belated, a breath) Long live the king.
Soon after. A fowler, DMITRI, is hurrying towards the keep where —
— nobles and honored subjects are offering respects.
Dmitri enters and kneels at the edge of the crowd, the messenger bird in hand.
Word of Skomorokh, Captain.
Gasps and murmurs.
INT. / EXT. DOLIMA CASTLE. NIGHT.
Guests have dispersed and nobles have gathered. Liev faces his father’s throne. The iron sword rests beside it. Its shadow seems to stain it.
Sonya and Sasha stands to one side of Liev, Nikolai to the other. Pavel stands ahead of Dmitri, reading the message.
(reading) “…and just like that, the forest closed up again, but the harper was gone.” (to Liev) There’s nothing else.
But the young rider… The Silent King is an old man…
Sorcery. Your father was right, Liev. Not a day after his rival’s death, and the Silent King has made his first move.
Sonya, do you know why the Silent King would need a harper?
It is strange. Lady Irina herself was one.
So it’s a taunt. Who can say what the real attack will be like? Your majesty?
Liev does not answer.
The iron sword steals a beat.
Liev walks to his throne. Gravely, he picks it up.
Lord Nikolai, you’ll advise me on this matter.
Sonya bows her head in dismay.
Later. By the window sits a veiled sketch of the king, beside a burning candle. Liev places a glass of water beside a folded towel for the dead.
Behind him, Sasha sits at his desk, fidgeting with the pen. She watches servants set up armor matching the iron sword, folding wedding clothes aside.
You always said the pen was mightier than the sword.
This is different. Sorcery is involved. (a beat) But I gave my word. Something will be done.
What did Lord Nikolai say?
Any peace negotiations broke down not long before I was born. My father barely made it out of the last one alive.
The servants fumble and the sword falls. Liev looks up sharply and crosses the room. They mince backwards as he picks it up.
Stenciled in shadow, he resembles his father.
He’s quiet. Sasha sets aside the pen and stands. Her fingers twitch for her harp.
Is there anything…?
My father’s spirit can’t be at rest.
Every law he made, he made to protect us from the Silent King. I mustn’t fail him.
The servants shrink towards the door, eyes begging Sasha’s permission. Sasha nods and they leave.
She starts to follow them, fights her feet, stays.
Liev, when my parents died, I…
I’d rather be alone, if it’s all the same.
I understand. Good night, Liev.
She steps out into a PASSAGE and crosses to HER ROOMS opposite, looks back once, then enters. The door shuts.
Lamplight on things half-unpacked. She deliberates, then strides to the locked chest, takes a key, opens it, and stares at her harp. She glances back once, then picks it up, resolved to head to —
THE BACK GARDEN
Cloaked, Sasha slips away through the gate, down the path, past the Castle Town, to —
EXT. SINY WOOD. SAME TIME.
Starlight. Sasha sits bowed and quiet a moment, hands to strings.
Just be brave here…
A few eyes blink open in the forest.
Make it a song to drive off shadows.
INT. / EXT. DOLINA CASTLE. NIGHT.
Near-dark. He sits with the sword, bent, nearly asleep.
The candle winks out. Its smoke twists sharply with a hiss.
Liev stirs. His breath fogs like the air’s turned cold.
The twisting smoke slowly bends into the room, weaving like a snake.
Sasha’s music arrives and snaps it into nothing.
Liev starts upright, sees the candle. He drops the sword and hurries to relight it.
He hears the music. Drawn onto the moonlit balcony, he listens.
The song is sadder this time.
Who are you, stranger?
On the floor, the iron sword’s shadow shivers.
EXT. / INT. SKOMOROKH / TISHINA CASTLE. DAWN.
OUTSIDE TISHINA CASTLE
Blue flowers shine in the dark as the harper is led by the riders. In the shadows, thorny vines curl and rattle as if chattering.
They arrive at the castle like Dolina’s abandoned twin. On the castle’s battlement stands GALEN, 30s, a sorcerer with a face like Sonya’s and a blue cloak. His eyes are closed. There is a spiral mark like a tattoo around his left wrist.
Hoofbeats. Galen opens his eyes. They shine the same blue as the flowers, then fade to moss-green. He looks down as Andrei looks up. Andrei waves. Galen nods and leaves the wall.
(nervous) A shame, the flowers, I mean.
Andrei and the harper enter the gate, but the knights vanish like smoke, unnoticed because—
Inside, A GARDEN COURTYARD blooms radiantly.
(awed) Is this sorcery?
Andrei leads him up to the keep’s gates.
The is spring, good harper. Skomorokh is sorcery, and our protection.
Andrei pushes the gates inward. The creak, bringing us into —
INT. TISHINA CASTLE. SAME TIME.
A THRONEROOM, tomb-dark and bare. Starlight and shadow play with windows and columns.
KING IVAN, 60, sleeps folded into his stone throne.
Galen appears out of the air, bows as Andrei approaches the plinth. Andrei touches Ivan’s arm.
Ivan sits up, revealing a solid man with broad shoulders.
His stern eyes fall on the harper.
Galen gestures once and the doors slam shut.
Questions of the Week:
- How’s the pacing?
- There’s a fine line between “I wonder what’s going on” and “What the schi is going on?!” If I cross it, please respond by typing WTS! in the comments, and I’ll look into clearing things up. Also, schi is delicious.
- Our unnamed harper needs a name. The panel is now open to review suggestions!
Notes: Rules, rules, rules, and words, words, words…
- Fun fact: Funeral traditions in old Russia are intriguing! I hope I’ve sparked the curiosity of others. Mourning cloths on pictures are actually pretty modern, but the water towel thing precedes the more modern vodka and black bread, and each tradition has it’s unique reasons.
- Community wedding traditions are citywide celebrations! In the source material, the main characters are a married couple. Here’s they’re just engaged, though there’s a lot of weight to that. Before leaving home for the last time, traditionally brides lament as a matter of course because it’s such a major life change. More on that here.
- Fun fact: The term “princess” is an anarchronym here since it does denote a certain ruling power like that of a prince. “Lady” would be more likely used in the 8th/9th Century, but for clarity I dare a little poetic license to imply Sasha’s noble birth with a word easier to pronounce than knyazhna.
- I wavered between using the word “noble” versus “advisor” for the court members as well, since at the time they were almost the same thing. “Noble” seems to capture how much power they had. I don’t go much into how a lot of them are probably at least distant relatives to the royal family. More on them later though.
- Originally, I wanted to call Andrei “Aleksey,” but then both his and Sasha’s formal name would start with Alek and I didn’t want to imply anything that’s not there.
- In my next flood of edits, I may go back and put some of these excellent points to use. Stay tuned…