6: A Queen’s Ransom

Just arrived?  Read from the beginning here. 


EXT.  TISHINA CASTLE.  DAWN.

Liev pants for breath, clutching the iron sword, searching.

Rustling ahead: Parting trees reveal Tishina Castle’s lawn, path, stark walls, and gate.  He hurries towards it.

Galen steps into view.  

GALEN

Welcome, your majesty.

Liev stops, unnerved.

LIEV

Your eyes, you look like…

 

GALEN

You look like your father, sire.

 

Liev sneers and lifts the iron sword.  At Galen’s sharp wave, a dozen AXEMEN (ND) appear.  Liev charges, but Galen vanishes.  Liev lashes out at the knights, but severs smoke.

Galen reappears on the walltop.  He watches.  

 

GALEN  (CONT’D)

Just like him.

 

A sudden, clank of armor at the gate:  Ivan arrives, armed with a spear.  He parts the soldiers with his presence.  

Before looking, Liev feels the shadow, turns to swing.  Steel and iron clash, lock…  

Liev eyes the walltop, then Ivan.

 

LIEV

(realizing) You’re the Silent King.

 

Silence answers.  

Liev has never fought in a war.  Ivan has.  Liev’s on the ground quickly, catches a blow, loses his grip for his bad wrist.

 Ivan pulls his next blow, disarms Liev instead.  Liev falls back, the spear inches from his throat, a warning.

 

LIEV

(angry) Why won’t you say anything?!

 

Two axemen grab him.  The spear retracts, he’s forced to his feet.  Galen waves a hand.  The other men twist into white smoke.  

Liev is dragged inside.  Galen wrings the tattoo on his wrist.  He winks in and out back to the gate, looks down at the sword.  

 

GALEN

Whatever you are, you can stay out here.

 

INT.  TISHINA CASTLE.  SUNSET.

A DUNGEON.  The soldiers shove Liev into a cell and lock it.  Liev throws himself at the bars.  

 

LIEV

Does nobody talk here?!

 

Galen appears at the door to the stairwell.

 

GALEN

Once you’re ready to listen, your majesty.

 

He slams the door.  Liev turns and beats the wall with a shout.

 

EXT. TISHINA CASTLE. SUNSET.

At the gate, Andrei hands the iron sword to the harper, wrapped partially in an old version of Galen’s cloak.  The harper takes it warily.  

 

ANDREI

You understand the ransom we seek.

 

HARPER

I wish I understood how this happened.

 

ANDREI

We thank you for your efforts, just the same.

 

A moment’s hesitation, then the harper heads down the forest path.  Andrei walks back to the gate, where Galen waits.

 

ANDREI

Are we doing the right thing, Galen?

 

GALEN

We’re doing the only thing we can.

 

EXT. / INT. DOLINA CASTLE.  DUSK.

THE COURTYARD

A herald rides ahead, stirring up a commotion as the harper arrives.

THE THRONEROOM

The sword lies with the cloak before the throne.  Nikolai stares at it.  With him is the opinionated, murmuring cloud of beards, the NOBLES.  Sonya stands close by.  Sasha seems absent.  GUARDS (ND) stand at the doors.

 

NIKOLAI

And they wanted… what?

 

HARPER

A song, milord, I didn’t know it.

 

NIKOLAI

And you say the king came alone?

 

HARPER

Yes, milord.  There was no one with him.

 

Nikolai puts a hand to his breast, visibly shaken.

 

SONYA

(giving him a moment) What’s so special about this song?

 

HARPER

They said it would cure a curse.  Their lady lies dying under it.

 

NIKOLAI

(coming back) And who is this Lady?

 

HARPER

The King’s wife, the Lady Irina, milord.

 

Angry murmurs

 

NOBLE #1

Wife?  The audacity!

 

NOBLE #2

Lady Irina can’t still be living…

 

NOBLE #3

Living, and dying it seems.

 

NOBLE #4

It’s a ruse!

 

HARPER

(nervous) I saw her.

 

The murmurs grow unintelligible.

 

NIKOLAI

I’m certain you think you did.

 

SONYA

Lord Nikolai…

 

NIKOLAI

(to her) Why would a sorcerer need our help curing a curse?

 

A reluctant beat.

SONYA

A sorcerer can’t undo another sorcerer’s curse if they’re not blood, milord.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

What other sorcerer is there?

 

HARPER

(cringing) They said… the source of the curse is Dolina, milord.

 

An eruption of denials.  Sonya’s instantly troubled.

 

NOBLE #1

How dare they!

 

NOBLE #2

Who’d do such a thing?

 

NOBLE #4

Nikolai, say something.

 

NIKOLAI

Shall I?

 

He walks to the sword and stands over it.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

What a petty accusation to divide us.  

 

NOBLE #4

What do you mean?

 

NIKOLAI

This harper was obviously the first part of a larger plan.

 

The harper looks stunned.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

This sword is no proof King Liev is even alive.

 

The murmurs erupt again, overlapping:

 

NOBLE #2

You don’t mean…?

 

NOBLE #1

Are you saying we’ve lost King Liev?

 

NOBLE #3

Just like a sorcerer!

 

NOBLE #4

We’ve let them roost in that forest long enough!

 

NOBLE #2

But, Nikolai, how can you be so sure?

 

SONYA

And what would be the point of it?

 

Quiet.  Eyes above big beards turn to her.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

What would be the point of any of this charade?  If Tishina wanted our wrath, it’d confess outright and send worse than a sword back to mock us —

 

Nikolai frowns.  The nobles think.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

— but instead, they try to bargain.

 

NIKOLAI

I know how ruthless King Ivan is, Sonya.  I was there the day he attacked King Viktor.  He’s no love for us, no reason to show it now.  This is a ruse, a ploy to justify a war.  The Silent King is old, he’s being careful.

 

Murmurs of agreement.

SONYA

(pointedly) Is war careful?  Perhaps he’s desperate, because he knows we can do what he cannot.

 

Curious murmurs.

 

NIKOLAI

Sonya…

 

SONYA

Magic is stronger than sorcery.

 

NIKOLAI

Don’t suggest…

 

SONYA

I could do it.

 

NIKOLAI

You’re an old woman.

 

SONYA

I am old.  And my people are old.  We know all the ancient songs, including songs that cure curses.  

 

NIKOLAI

And you know the King’s law…

 

SONYA

I could teach someone then.

 

NOBLE #1

You’d help our enemies?

 

SONYA

I’d avoid war.

 

NOBLE #3

This war’s been long in coming.

 

NOBLE #4

Whose side are you on?

 

SONYA

People get old.

 

They hesitate.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

They get old, they get tired.  We should be glad to hear Lady Irina yet lives.  Tishina asks for a song.  Are you insisting we give them our blood instead?

 

Another eruption

 

NOBLE #1

You speak like a traitor!

 

NOBLE #2

Wasn’t it your husband who raised Skomorokh for the Silent King?

 

NOBLE #4

How do we know you wouldn’t side with him?

 

Nikolai crosses to Sonya.  A quiet confrontation:

 

NIKOLAI

(low) You of all people should know better, Sonya.

 

SONYA

We’re talking about war, Nikolai, about sending our young men to…

 

A look.  She stops, realizes….

 

Fresh murmurs.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

(a friend) Nikolai, there’s still hope that…

 

NIKOLAI

(a hiss) Spare me your hope, and spare yourself, old woman!

 

He turns, snatches up the iron sword as a prop.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

King Ivan once walked among us.  He knows us.  He’s already taken our king.  Obviously he’s hoping we’ll send him the last bit of magic we have.

 

A nod to Sonya.  A few nobles recant, others glower.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

(throwing a bone) From now on, I say we wait on war, and nothing more.  He tries to strike us while we’re in mourning and add to our griefs — (struggling) — soon we’ll strike back, and not like a coward in his tower!

 

Approval.  Sonya stares at Nikolai worriedly.  He pointedly ignores her.

 

HARPER

(not a politician) But, milords, I don’t think they would have imprisoned our king at all if he hadn’t attacked them.

 

Shouts threaten fists.  Nikolai intercedes.

 

NIKOLAI

Let’s all keep our senses.

 

The nobles shrink back, eyeing the sword.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

(to the guards) See this harper safely to the dungeons.

 

HARPER

What…?

 

The guards grab him up roughly.  His harp falls with a dissonant clatter.

 

SASHA (O.S.)

Lord Nikolai!

 

She’s framed in a doorway, shocked.

 

NIKOLAI

(a bow) Your highness…

 

NOBLES

(wary) Your highness…

 

SASHA

What is this?

 

Nikolai’s sharp look chases the guards out as Sasha enters.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

Is that the harper who was a prisoner…?

 

NIKOLAI

Princess, you need not worry yourself.  You know Liev left me in charge of matters in his absence.

 

SASHA

His majesty would ensure a fair trial for his subject, milord.

 

Nikolai realizes his mistake.  The nobles murmur, puzzled, annoyed, impressed…

 

NIKOLAI

Of course, your highness.  (pointed)  No one here is above the law.

 

Sasha tucks her callused fingers into the folds of her skirt.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

(turning away) We prepare for war.  Anyone attempting to pay this ransom will be counted a traitor.  We will risk no more of our people for this charade. (perfunctory bow) By your leave, my lady.

 

The nobles depart by the main entrance, with Nikolai.  Nikolai still carries the sword.  

Sasha watches Sonya pick up the cloak, examine a tear worriedly.  

 

SONYA

(distracted) How much did you hear?  

 

Sasha starts shaking.  Her knees give and Sonya catches her.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

Your highness, I won’t believe they are dead.

 

SASHA

He didn’t even try.


 

 

Notes for the Week:

  1. Well, that escalated quickly.  Actually, no, it took 56 pages.  Snip snip snip…
  2. Fun Fact: The Kievan Rus didn’t have standing armies.  Instead, princes had their own guard and these led an ad hoc militia when the need arose.  More on that here.
  3. So, in the original, the nobles were stupid shallow, like literally, “Hm, a ransom letter saying our king’s alive and we need to pay to get him back.  Oh well, sucks to be him.”  Not that I’m saying they’re not that shallow…

Questions for the Week (and a Survey!) 

  1. We’re coming along to the halfway point, so I’d love to hear any comments or suggestions.  For example, there are lots of names with “S’s” in them and maybe that should change.   If enough people agree I’ll post a name-change survey.  Woot!
  2. First, however, the method writer in me has been learning Russian.  I’m debating using more Russian in this script but I’m wary of pronunciation issues, not to mention that, done wrong, it comes across as tacky.  So here’s a short survey:

 

Survey: 

Vy govorite po-russki?

Disclaimer: I’m not sure how to do one of these on WordPress, so please type in the comments with your replies in a numbered list from 1 to 5:

What Russian words should be included in this script?

  1. Greetings.  Be aware this could involve words like “Zdravstvuyte” for hello.
  2. Military and government terms.  Such as boyars (which I’m calling Nobles at the moment) and druzhina (the king’s small, personal standing army).
  3. Landmarks:  Fairy tale worlds have some poetic license, but famous rivers and the like have names as old as the hills.  My limits in this at the moment are my outdated maps, or rather “indated” maps.
  4. gods, goddesses, and spirits.  Early Eastern Europe and west Russia was a hodge-podge of religions.  Most of my mythos is reconstructionist or, if I can’t find documentation old enough, a simplication based on a nearby regions’ religions, but I’m trying to keep it Slavic.  At the same time, I don’t want to over-complicate things.
  5. Jargon and ways of speech.  There are ways to stylize English to invoke a Russian accent without overdoing it.  For example, dropping the English auxiliary verb “do,” not rearranging sentence order for questions, and avoiding the word “the” when possible.  This could be interesting but it could also be distracting.
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