7: Strange Acquaintances

Just got here?  Here’s Chapter One.


 

 

INT. DOLINA CASTLE. SAME TIME.

THE HALL, A STAIR, A CORRIDOR

Footsteps.  An open door.

Sword in hand, Nikolai steers himself into HIS ROOMS.  A SERVANT GIRL (ND) quickly scrambles out, bows and shuts the door as he heads to… 

A BEDROOM:  Nikolai locks himself in and leans on the door.  He clutches his chest in pain.

THE CORRIDOR

The girl looks back worriedly before hurrying away.

THE BEDROOM

The half-moon shines in.

 

NIKOLAI

War…  I’m too old for this.

 

He catches his breath, holds it, pulls Pavel’s cards from his pocket and stares.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

(tearfully) And everyone else is too young.

 

He drags himself to the dresser, lays the cards down, looks uselessly at the sword, gets angry…

…turns, hurls it at the wall with a clattering clang.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D)

Haven’t you asked enough of me?!

 

He sinks to his knees, leans back on the dresser, mourns.

The sword takes a beat.

The lamps go out in twists of smoke.  The hearthfire cringes.  A cloud crosses the moon.  

Nikolai shivers, opens his eyes, sees his breath fog, hears a voice:

 

VIKTOR (O.S.)

Of course, I have.

 

Distraught, Nikolai looks up.  The sword’s shadow pools like water, then rises like a fog… into a person:  

Viktor:  uncrowned but imperious.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

But I would never ask you to lose what I wouldn’t sacrifice myself.


NIKOLAI

(transfixed) Impossible…

 

Viktor walks to him, sees the cards, picks them up curiously.

 

VIKTOR

I never appreciated how useful you were, Kolya.

 

NIKOLAI

You haven’t called me that in years…

 

VIKTOR

Better times, weren’t they?  (a laugh) And better times ahead.

 

NIKOLAI

(standing) You can’t be here.  You’re supposed to be…

 

VIKTOR

Lying in my tomb?  Peacefully awaiting Veles, the noble Shepherd of the Dead?  Not when my kingdom needs me, no.

 

NIKOLAI

Your k…?  But Liev…

 

VIKTOR

(sadly) Come now, Kolya, let’s not tell ourselves stories.  I failed Liev.  I let him be weak.  “As is the king, so is the kingdom. ” (scoff) I should have known Liev was never strong enough to lead Dolina to war.

 

NIKOLAI

(angry) He said you were with him.  He went in faith.  You abandoned him…

 

VIKTOR

(shameless) I was with him, but he wouldn’t hear me, couldn’t see me.  I failed again.  We were far too distant in life for me to help him in death.

 

NIKOLAI

Death…

 

VIKTOR

(secretive) But Ivan thought that was the end of it!  The fool sent me here, to you, and in that, he’s sealed his end.

 

Nikolai’s eyes stray to the sword.  

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

Very good, Kolya.  You understand.

 

Nikolai clutches at his chest, shaking his head.  

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

Are you well, old friend?

 

NIKOLAI

You can’t be here.  I’m going mad, aren’t I?

 

Viktor calculates.  As Nikolai looks up, the ghost turns away and flicks one card into the fire.

Nikolai’s eyes widen in shock, he dives for it, burns himself, fumbles for a poker…

Viktor catches his arms, slams him against the mantle.

 

VIKTOR

Look at me, Nikolai Ilmenov!  I am real as the fire, as cold as the grave.

 

Flames blacken the King of Hearts.

 

NIKOLAI

Gods help me…

 

VIKTOR

Now is not the time to be invoking silent gods.  Our kingdom’s at stake!

 

NIKOLAI

You’re hurting me…

 

VIKTOR

Then you’re ready to stop denying your own eyes?

 

Nikolai is stunned… then angry.

 

NIKOLAI

(shoving him away) Viktor, our sons are dead!

 

VIKTOR

And we know who’s to blame.

 

Nikolai throws on a cloak, grabs the sword.

 

NIKOLAI

So I’ll see you back to your grave…

 

The sword falls.  His knees hit the floor.

Nikolai’s clutching his chest again.  His breathing’s short and his face spasms.

 

VIKTOR

(all concern) Dear friend —

 

He stoops and picks up the sword.  It takes on his corpse glow.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

— let me help you.

 

Nikolai is frightened.  Viktor pries up his hand and touches his chest.  In the space of a breath, the spasms stop.

Viktor drops his hand.  Nikolai won’t look up.

 

NIKOLAI

What did you do?

 

VIKTOR

We had a connection once, you and I.  The last of my failures was not to see it.

 

NIKOLAI

You sent Liev to his death…

 

VIKTOR

(careful) I sent him, and your son followed.  I cannot blame you for teaching him well.  By all this, I meant that the blame is mine.

 

Note: Apologies are a new thing.  Nikolai looks up.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

And now Ivan has robbed us both, weakened us, and plans to make this kingdom the wasteland of his revenge.

 

NIKOLAI

Revenge?

 

VIKTOR

He’ll put it that way, for certain.  He’s provoking war. (a smile) And we’ll give him such a war.

 

NIKOLAI

Viktor, I’m not sure I have the strength.

 

In the hearth, the last heart curls into ashes.

 

VIKTOR

I’ve strength yet for both of us.  “As is the king…”

 

He pushes the King of Spades into his hand.

 

NIKOLAI

“…so is the kingdom.”

 

EXT.  DOLINA.  CONTINUOUS.

War is coming.

Word spreads.  Days are counted.  Old armor, polished.  Swords, plucked down from mantles.

THE BLACK CAT INN

Music, but worried faces.  

A posted edict calls for militiamen.  Gleb observes it over a pipe.  His people observe his observing.

 

GLEB

We should go back to hiding in the hedge, what say you, lads?

 

EXT. / INT. DOLINA CASTLE. DAY.

Through a window, we see the gathering militia.  Forge hammers clang from the Castle Town.  Soldiers shout out drills. 

SASHA’S ROOMS

SERVANTS are packing.  Sasha enters, surprised.

 

SASHA

What are you all doing?

 

SERVANT #1

What with the king gone, my lady, we thought…

 

SERVANT #2

We’d best start packing, send word to your brother…

 

SASHA

Nonsense.  The king doesn’t want me to leave.

 

SERVANT #2

If you’ll give your pardon, your highness…

 

SASHA

I won’t.

 

They fidget.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

King Liev’s alive.  You’ve no right to presume otherwise.

 

SERVANT #1

Everyone says otherwise.

 

The servant moves to open the harp chest.  Sasha intercepts her and folds her arms. 

 

SASHA

(sharply) Because war is easier than thinking, I suppose.

 

They look at one another, wary.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

I’ll not accept so easily that I am a widow before I’m even wed.  Busy yourself elsewhere, and don’t come again unless I summon you.

 

They leave.  She watches them shut the door, sighs and looks away at her harp chest, then a dressing mirror.

She frowns and gathers up her hair, studies her reflection.

 

THE DUNGEON

Stairs, dark corridors, cells:  A GUARD protests.

 

GUARD (O.S.)

Your highness, this is no place for a princess.

 

SASHA (O.S.)

Nor for a harper.

 

A cell door squeals open.   

 Weary and a mess, the harper looks up from a straw bed.

 

HARPER

Your… highness?

 

Sasha hands the keys back to the guard.  She carries a cloth bundle.

 

SASHA

(stern, to the guard) Bring decent food and clean water.

 

He leaves.  The harper worries.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

(gently) What’s your name?

 

HARPER

Pyotr Orlov, your highness.

 

SASHA

(passing the bundle) I brought some fresh clothes, Pyotr.  I know it’s not much.

 

HARPER / PYOTR

(bowing) My Lady, you’re too kind.

 

Sasha glances back down the hall.

 

SASHA

I have to ask something in return.  (quietly) What can you tell me about Tishina?

 


Notes of the week:

  1. Almost to the halfway point (small twinge of panic).
  2. Yeah, our beleaguered harper has a name!
  3. Fun Facts: There are two kinds of death in Russian thought.  Good death is a life full of years and bad death is an untimely or violent death, which causes a ghost to linger.  In theory, Viktor died the good death, getting old, surrounded by family, but nevertheless restless ghosts are considered “unclean.”
  4. Another fun fact:  So far as evil goes, a number of creatures from the folklore do fall into the category of “pledged souls,” which are humans who’ve gone against nature or died in specific circumstances leaving them restless or embittered.  These might be prayed into rest, but they’re remarkably nasty monsters otherwise.

Questions of the Week:

  1. So honestly I’m not sure, as I’ve found nothing on it, but how are engagements ended in Eastern Europe when no party’s at fault? As aforementioned, the arrangements of the engagement ceremonies alone are pretty in-depth, I’m sure much more for royalty.
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