1: The Princess’s Dilemma

And here we go…


FADE IN:

EXT. KHAZARIM – DAY (ONCE UPON A TIME)

KHAZARIM

Past green meadows and blue mountains lies Khazarim, a kingdom riddled from end to end with smoldering villages and ashen fields.  And bones.  

A lone RIDER sits astride a monstrous horse.  He wears a black cloak with silver Glagolitic “runes,” and his face is hidden by a hood.  

Wind howls across the wasteland.

The horse’s hoof smashes a dried skull.

The rider smiles.

Ravens fly high overhead as he turns the horse towards a forest.  They caw loudly and he spurs it on.

The ravens dive towards a giant white STONE lying on a grassy mound.  It has a vague face.

The face yawns, and they all shoot down into

EXT. THE UNDERWORLD – SAME TIME

A vast mirror kingdom all the wrong colors.  

Sprawled straight ahead lies

EXT. / INT. A GOLD AND CRYSTAL PALACE – SAME TIME

The decor garish screams “Evil wizard with bad taste here.”  There are no visible doors.  

The ravens dive past a tower with a tiled roof.  There’s a trapdoor.  

It buckles, rises, then opens with a clunk.

PRINCESS “LISA” VASILISA (18) sticks her head out, extracts both arms, rises, sits.  The wind rattles lose tiles.  

She reaches back for what looks like a pair of medieval forearm crutches.  She stops, puts one back, slings the other over her arm.  

She pulls herself onto the roof with its help.  Her legs are weak and her ankles are twisted.  She looks at the hole in the sky, then around, distressed.

The Stone shuts its mouth and mumbles sleepily.

Lisa considers the tower, a lower turret, the keep, a walkway, the wall.  She climbs down slowly, clutching the tiles.  

 The wind blows.  She cringes.  She sidles towards the eaves.  A tile slips, slides.  She slips, slides, grabs.  

LISA

Ah!

 

A crutch goes clattering

LISA (CONT’D)

No!  No, no, no, no, no…

 

…and catches on the eaves.  Lisa takes a deep breath, reaches…  Not close enough.  She starts to climb down, slips again, screams, holds on for dear life.

She looks back at the trap door, back at the crutch.  

INSIDE

A reading room with a hearth and tea table.  A wheeled ladder stands under the trapdoor.  She sits on it.

She holds up one hand.  There’s a golden ring on it.  

Very deliberately, she twists it three times:

LISA

(reciting) I wish… I had… some knitting.

 

A tinkling sound.  Yarn and needles appear on a tea table.  She sighs, climbs down with difficulty, fumbles for it.

 She stares at the closed door.  The room is silent.  She swallows, looks up, climbs…

OUTSIDE

She sets her other crutch down carefully, looks at the other one.  The wind rattles the tiles.  She rigs up something with the yarn.

Near the crutch, the rigging thwaps onto the roof.  It pulls back.  Hits again.

Lisa tries another cast.

Thwap.  It hooks.  She breathes a little.  Pull, reach, pull, reach, pull…  Finally she catches the crutch, clutches it, breathes.  

A distant whinny.

She peers into the sky, then gathers up the yarn messily.

INSIDE

The yarn and needles drop.  The trapdoor shuts.  Lisa eases herself back down the ladder, out of breath.  Hobbling on her crutches, she pushes bodily to drive it back to the shelf.  

It catches on a rug.  A knock on the door.  She freezes.  

MAN’S VOICE (O.S.)

Princess?

 

Shove — the ladder wheels into the shelves.  Both wobble.  She cringes and flicks the rug straight.

LISA

(scrambling for the yarn) Is that you, Koschei?

MAN’S VOICE (O.S.)

Who else would it be?

 

She sits, scrambling to hold the needles, fights the knots.  

The rider, the sorcerer KOSCHEI, enters.  He looks in his 40s.  This cloak’s hood is turned back.  His hair is white and windswept.  He’s handsome but has a few scars. He’s charming and intimidating all at once.  

RIDER / KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

I heard you wishing…

LISA

(stammering) I thought I’d try my hand at knitting.

 

A skeptical beat.

KOSCHEI

It’s not going well, is it?

 

LISA

I’m a little out of practice.

 

KOSCHEI

It’s good to see you feeling so domestic.  You like the gift?

 

She eyes the ring.

LISA

It’s… useful.

 

KOSCHEI

I’m glad to hear it.

He studies the knotted yarn, then the crooked books, the rug…

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

Of course, it’s yours, no strings attached…

 

LISA

Not that it replaces things like parents, siblings, friends… the lives of everyone I ever knew…

 

He looks up at the trapdoor, waves his hand.  

 A clank overhead.  Lisa looks up.  A brand new padlock swings on a chain.  

 Koschei smiles at her.  She sighs roughly.

 

KOSCHEI

You’ll see things my way eventually.

 

LISA

No, I don’t think I will.

 

KOSCHEI

There’s very little stopping us from getting married, other than you of course.

 

He wags a careless hand at the shelves.  Their height halves.  The ladder rattles, settles, plain and rickety.

 

LISA

How could I ever love a monster like you?

 

KOSCHEI

I didn’t ask you to love me.

 

LISA

You asked me to marry you.

 

KOSCHEI

And love’s important, is it?

 

LISA

(stiffly) Yes. It’s right up there with not killing a girl’s entire family before you ask for her hand.

 

KOSCHEI

But I did ask.

She glowers.

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

I have big plans for this little world, princess.

 

LISA

So what’s stopping you?

 

After a twitch, Koschei composes himself.

 

KOSCHEI

Nothing.  I have all the time in the world.  I only wish for a companion in my endeavors.

 

LISA

Do these “endeavors” involve leaving anything alive?

 

KOSCHEI

A few things.

He walks to the tea table and conjures a vase, then flowers, a splash of water —

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

Like the most beautiful woman in Khazarim.

— and an entire tea set, complete with steaming teapot, cakes, and cutlery.

Koschei sits as the tea serves itself.

Lisa eyes a knife.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

(sipping tea) But I suppose your courtship will just have to continue.

 

She grabs one crutch, snatches the knife.

The teacup falls, breaks.

She stumbles backward, shocked.

Koschei is laughing.  The knife sticks out of his chest.  He pulls it out, sets it on the table.  

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

I knew you’d try that eventually —

 

She stares at it.  No blood.  

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

— but how would you escape the underworld without my help?

Another wave; the cup’s repaired, tea and all. He sips, sets it down. With an idle motion he magically mends his clothes.

 

LISA

(angry tears) I hate you.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

I could make you the most powerful woman alive, Princess Vasilisa. Instead of, well…

He waves a hand at her crutches. She glares. He stands.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

Don’t try to escape again.

He catches her chin and makes her look up.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

There are worse things that could happen to you than death.  I’ve done research.

 

She jerks away.  He heads for the door.  It opens for him.

 

LISA

I hope all of them happen to you!

 

A GARDEN

 Koschei approaches a wall, pulling on riding gloves.

 

KOSCHEI

Open.

 

A door appears.  Koschei walks through.

OUTSIDE THE PALACE

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

Close.

 

The wall irises shut.  

The big black horse champs an iron bit, pulling at a hitching post.  

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

(muttering) I figured out death, princess.  I will figure out you.

 

He mounts up and stares into a nearby wood.  His annoyance turns thoughtful.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

I just need a little help.


Fun Facts of the Week: Vasilisa the Wise

  • What’s a Russian Fairy Tale without Vasilisa?  It would be like leaving out Baba Yaga.  I haven’t written “Lisa” a Names blog entry yet, though I hope to fix that during the halftime break.  Vasilisa is known in many tales as “the wise,” and in others as “the beautiful” and in person tends to be both.  Her name alludes to St. Basil, who replaced Veles in the pantheon with the onset of Christianity.
  • Basil was a Greek bishop who served at times as a diplomat between growing factions in the 4th-Century church.  His epithet is “revealer of mysteries,” and similarly Vasilisa is often a helper to a hero on his quest when she herself is not the main character of a story.    (St. Basil’s Cathedral is now a museum and known for its unique architecture:  Its shape was meant to be reminiscent of a bonfire, and its towers number eight instead of seven.)

 

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