21: Blue Herring

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INT. THE GREAT HALL – NIGHT

A feast of feasts with music and dance.  Helga stands with Anna, both talking, subdued.  Helga sips wine; Anna cradles water. Continue reading

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20: Closing In

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INT. STOLIST CASTLE – LATER

THE LAVISH GUESTROOM

INSERT:  The map lies open on a table.  Two lines, blue and red, run from one castle to the other, straight across. Continue reading

19: Chivalry

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INT./EXT. THE TENT – MOMENTS LATER

The midden heaps burn and belch smoke.

The dim, grungy lean-to offers pitiful shade.  Galen ducks inside.  The boy lies sweating, whimpering in a faint.  Galen checks his forehead.

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18: In Confidence

Short post this week.  Hard to believe the year’s almost over…

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INT. THE GREAT HALL – MORNING

Across from the throne, a new COBBLER calculates.  Servants clean as before.  Perfectly poised, Surgev takes inventory with a darting pen.

Pavel stands close with Tugarin, now fighting sleep.  His hand is bandaged.  They speak low in confidence. 

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17: Tokens and Signs

 

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EXT. THE UNDERWORLD – NIGHT INTO TWILIGHT

THE DIAMOND DANCE

The dance glides on.  The crystal clover pricks the colorful shoes.  As the sky pales, the stars dim, and the shoes grow more and more tattered.

The tattered shoes cross the white fire line.  The glittering finery falls away like fairy dust. 

THE FAR SHORE

Arm-in-arm the princesses and princes approach the boats.

Helga turns a sapphire ring on her finger; we haven’t seen it before.

 

HELGA

(to Chudov) …if there’s anyway next time.

 

HELGA’S PRINCE

I’ll do all I can.

He kisses her hand.

UNDER THE CLOAK

Pavel braces himself as the boat rocks.

 

MELINA (O.S.)

I had such a lovely time.

 

MELINA’S PRINCE (O.S.)

You’re always welcome, Melinka.

 

THE FAR SHORE

 

MELINA

(sing-song) Not as much as Helga.

 

 MELINA’S PRINCE

You are too precocious.

 

Melina smiles shamelessly.

UNDER THE CLOAK

Pavel listens curiously.

 

WASHERWOMAN (O.S.)

Bring them back safely, Lord Chudov.

 

THE PRINCES (O.S.)

(in chorus) Yes, mistress.

 

THE FAR SHORE

 

 WASHERWOMAN

Do not linger, or thirst and hunger will keep you.

 

 

The oars push off and the boats cross the white-fire water.

THE NEAR SHORE

As the princesses disembark, footsteps without an owner run ahead, through the woods and up the stairs above the treetops.

  

INT. STOLIST PALACE – NIGHT

THE BEDROOM

The footsteps stumble into the room as lamps flicker low.

Melina’s doll appears on the chair, crooked.  Somehow, it straightens.  The footsteps hurry on to

 THE ANTECHAMBER

Pavel flings off the cloak and draws a breath like he’s coming up for air.  He turns and shuts the doors, locks them, stuffs the scale cloak under the bed. 

 

PAVEL

Where do I even begin?

 

 He throws back the shutters:  Morning twilight hangs over the garden.  He searches a moment:  It’s empty.

  

PAVEL (CONT’D)

Galen…

 

 Voices chatter suddenly through the doors.  He shuts and bolts the window again, drops the keys on the table.

  

HELGA (O.S.)

Melina, quick…

 

MELINA (O.S.)

Where’s my doll?

 

THE BEDROOM

Melina holds the mirror, looking around.  The other girls quickly wrench off tattered shoes, grab at nightgowns. 

Helga takes the doll from the chair.

 

HELGA

Right where you left her.

 

 MELINA

(taking it) But I put her on the bed.

 

HELGA

Hurry up, Melly.

 

EKATERINA

Oh, my ankles.

 

DINARA

Isn’t it delicious?

 

Melina pulls out the mirror, holds it up.

A flash:  The door’s gone in a starburst reversed.

 

HELGA

Hurry, into bed before they come up.

 

THE ANTECHAMBER

The servants enter as Pavel tucks away the cloak.  He spots the scrap of sheet, snatches it up, and balls it.  The doors unlock, creak open:  

Helga sits in the rocking chair, cross-stitching with a small embroidery hoop.  The others lie in bed. 

 

HELGA

(tersely) Good morning.

 

 She tucks the hoop into her basket and scoops up her tattered shoes, enters the antechamber.  The ring is missing.

 Pavel cuts his cards.

  

HELGA (CONT’D)

Your lordship?  How did you sleep?

 

 PAVEL

Were we both fraught with insomnia, your highness?

 

 Helga picks up the glass, shoots him a sideways look.

 

 HELGA

Nightmares?

 

PAVEL

(innocently) Can’t say I remember.

 

HELGA

Nor can I. (a frown) Your hand’s bleeding.

 

It is.

 

PAVEL

Papercut.  Do excuse me.

 

He wraps his hand in the cloth and hurries out.  Helga frowns after him, turns, looks down. 

She picks up a piece of straw.

 

EXT. THE UNDERWORLD – DAWN

THE FAR SHORE

Step. Clank.

Under a copper green sun, the old woman and her dog walk the shore, the woman with an air of inspection.

The boats and princes arrive, walk the water without wincing, tie the painters. 

 

PRINCES

(in chorus) Will that be all, mistress?

 

 Step.  Clank.  As she passes, the princes vanish — but for the last:

 

WASHERWOMAN

That will be all, Chudov, until tomorrow.

 

 He starts up the broken bridge.  She pokes a glittering mushroom with her cane, eyes velvet moss…

A stony, groaning sound rumbles as she heads up the path.

Behind her, the shore stands empty.  The bridge is whole.

THE GOLDEN PLACE – CONTINUOUS

The dog whimpers.  The washerwoman pinches a bloodied willow leaf, squints, then sniffs.

 

EXT. THE GUTTER – DAWN

THE FOREST EDGE

Straw clothes to one side, Galen sleeps, curled up in his cloak. 

[THE VISION]

Blades of grass brown and wither.  Far as the eye can see, the world dries up, crumbling into oblivion.  

Walls of flame rise behind it.

Flash.

[END VISION]

Galen starts awake, short of breath.  He shakes off the dream, squints warily at the bare sky.

 

EXT. STOLIST – DAWN

THE BAKERS ROAD

In straw clothes, Galen slips around the West Gate, considers the broken latch, stumbles up the silent street, into

THE ALLEY – CONTINUOUS (DAWN)

He pulls of his hat, pushes his hand into his hair —

— feels a new ring of knots.

THE BAKER’S ROAD – SAME TIME

Pavel strides down the street as shops open, avoids a rumbling dairy cart.

He passes an alley, doubles back.

THE ALLEY – CONTINUOUS

Galen sits bowed under his hat.

 

PAVEL (O.S.)

I owe alms to the gods, kaleka.

 

Galen looks up, leaps up.

 

GALEN

(hugging him) Thank the gods!

 

PAVEL

(hugging back) I knew you missed my hugs.

 

GALEN

You’re alive.

 

 Pavel pulls off his pendant and throws it over Galen’s neck.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

What are you…?

 

PAVEL

Protection.  You should have told me:  I’ve got an invisibility cloak and my sword now, not to mention my dashing good looks…

 

 GALEN

Pavel…

 

 PAVEL

Good looks alone won’t save you, Gall, not from Baba Yaga.

 

 Galen looks caught, then shakes his head.

 

GALEN

My father…

 

PAVEL

Was a bastard.

 

GALEN

…did what he had to do.

 

PAVEL

If you say so.

 

THE BAKERS ROAD – MOMENTS LATER

Pavel sits with Galen near the gate.  Pavel faces the gate.  Galen faces the street with a bowl of kasha. 

 

PAVEL

Hate to break your heart, friend, but I think it’s serious.  Rum cake?

 

He offers a pastry. 

 

GALEN

It’s all too sweet for me, thank you, your lordship.

 

Pavel shrugs and takes a bite.  Galen looks suddenly past him at a familiar clanking march.

Helga approaches with her guard.

 

PAVEL

(turning) Good morning again, princess.

 

As he stands and bows:

 

HELGA

Ambassador?  What are you doing here?

 

PAVEL

I’ve lost two nights’ sleep for your riddle, princess.  So I thought it best I please the gods and help a poor soul.

 

 HELGA

Will they cure your stubbornness perhaps?

 

PAVEL

They know me best.

 

Helga notices Galen.

 

HELGA

Gremett?

 

GALEN

This lord seems to have taken pity on me, milady.

 

At “milady,” Pavel’s eyebrows shoot up in a question Galen ignores.

 

PAVEL

(to Helga) Is stale bread also tradition, your highness?  I think the next cobbler’s due at the palace soon — for your new silk shoes?

 

Helga glares at Pavel a long moment, her hands tightening on the basket.  Pavel bows again suddenly.

 

PAVEL

I must meet the king.  Good day to you, princess.  And to you, kaleka — My life hangs on your prayers.

 

 GALEN

It’s an honor to be first in your thoughts, my lord.

 

Pavel bows and fights a smile before striding up the street.

Helga stands still a moment, then looks at the shops and their glazed fare.

 

HELGA

Captain?

 

 MEDVED

Your highness?

 

HELGA

Buy the lot.

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Character Notes – Dragons

Much of this story actually started with the dragon.  I’ve wanted Pavel and Galen to have their own adventure since A Queen’s Ransom.  Traditionally, the king was king by the people’s permission.  That is, he and his soldiers were expected to run the army and deal with enemies.  So, I thought, why not let some enemy be a mythical beast?

Back when I was still researching for Ivan the Brave and  Koschei the Deathless, I came across notes on Slavic dragons.  These dragons are generally associated with water, not fire.  Snakes were let alone to deal with pests, but people saw them grow as they shed their skin.  This led to the idea in some regions that, after anywhere between seven and forty years, snakes became dragons.  Only vipers would become fire breathing zmei.

One famous dragon, possibly Koschei’s brother, is Chudo-Yudo (or -Iudo), first mentioned by name in The Storm-Bogatyr.  Here, he’s one of three children of Baba Yaga.  In a very similar story, Ivan Popyalov, Ivan fights a snake like creature who is a shape-shifting sorcerer.

According to Wikipedia, the name “Chudo-Yudo” (чудо-юдо) probably comes from chudovische (чудовище), meaning “monster.  “Yudo” is an ending added just for rhyme.  Since chudovische is a bit of a mouthful, I decided to split the word differently—chudov-ische—and see what happened.  It turns out Chudov (чудов) can mean “miracles” and ischa (ища) can mean “look for,” though I’m sure I’m ruining the noun case here.  The idea of a “miracle seeker” connected dragon to sorcerer.  With two for two, I decided I had myself a character for a new story and dug a bit more.  A pet of Baba Yaga’s, the fire-breathing dragon, Gorynych, guards Kalinov Bridge, which you can read more about here if you like.

(According to the same article, there are versions where Chudo-Yudo is a monster form of Baba Yaga herself.)

More curious, however, was that Chudo-Yudo was invoked in times of drought.  So with this I knew I had my fictitious story’s problem.  I just needed a fairy tale to tie it to the characters somehow.  A friend’s suggestion of The Midnight Princesses as a backdrop gave context.  I liked this pairing especially since the first version of the fairy tale I ever saw had princes that were actually monsters.

Since my in-world pantheon features Veles as Baba Yaga’s other half, I’ve placed “Chudov” in a servant’s position, using the idea of “pledged” souls who receive mercy due to their untimely passings.  These act as servants to avoid her iron washboard.

Story Notes:  Pledged Souls and Redemption

One bit of lore I’ve come across in my research (with a website currently 404) is that of pledged souls.  Before Christianity, wood denizens and other animistic creatures like brownies meant nature would be kind if you respected it but turn its shadow on you if you didn’t.  Humanlike monsters were born from human souls.  The rusalki, for example, were the untimely dead living peacefully in an underwater kingdom until the day they would have died.

After Russia converted, woodland spirits were recast as demons and the souls of the dead were in agony in limbo.  While the souls could be freed by prayer, nature was now evil and out to get you.

In my world building, since I’m basing it on Russian fairy tales and some were made before and some after this change, I’ve tried to make a universe that plays with both concepts.  So souls can be washed (albeit painfully) before entering into a peaceful afterlife, and only running from one’s final death makes the stains of evil stay.  I suppose I settled on this is because, while I vie for the comforting image, I still want evil in this universe to be a choice, and thus the responsibility of mortals, who bear its consequences.  Nature is then affected by these actions.

I’m still considering changing the names Veles and Baba Yaga into names more unique in-universe, but I’m not sure yet if any other names would fit.  If anyone has an opinion on suggestion on this wise, feel free to comment below.  I’d love to bounce some new ideas around.

Deleted Scenes II: The Crossing

This scene would be around the end of Chapter 10 (link below).  I almost didn’t cut this one, but I suppose keeping Helga’s opinion of the city subjective makes the opposition more clean cut.  Then again, clean cut can be boring.

Story Notes: The Midnight Dances               Chapter 10: Pressure Points


EXT. THE MAIN GATE – DAY

Galen stands inside the main gate at the bridge, leaning on its rail in thought.  The water rushes in white rapids below.

 The two gatekeepers lounging with spears nod to one another.  One starts forward, grinning.

 

GATEKEEPER

You’re not allowed on this bridge, beggar.

 

GALEN

I’m not here to beg.

 

GATEKEEPER

Use of the bridge costs a fee.

 

GALEN

I see no signs.

 

GATEKEEPER

Four coin.  For the upkeep.

 

GALEN

I’ll cross through the water then.

 

He starts back, is stopped by a hand on his chest.

 

GATEKEEPER

(leering) Eight coin to cross the water.  Fee for damaging the water.

 

Galen regards him stonily a moment, one hand in his straw cloak, deliberating. 

 

GALEN

Then I suppose I’ll be going downhill.

 

The gatekeeper bars his way with his spear.

 

GATEKEEPER

You’re halfway across already.  That’s two coin, plus the way back — makes four.

 

GALEN

(straight) Not five?

 

GATEKEEPER

Feeling generous?

 

GALEN

I assume your collecting a fee for guard “upkeep.”  Mainly the halitosis.

 

GATEKEEPER

(realizing the insult) I’ll take your fee —

 

He throws him down.

 

GATEKEEPER

— and your teeth!

 

He kicks him in the side.

 

ILYICH (O.S.)

Hey!

 

The gatekeeper steps back as Ilyich mounts the bridge.

 

ILYICH (CONT’D)

What are you doing, soldier?

 

GATEKEEPER

Keeping the peace.

 

Ilyich pulls a knife and backs him away.  Even with a limp, he’s imposing.

 

ILYICH

Keep your tongue in your teeth or I’ll cut it out for you.  And keep your hands off outsiders — Some of them are mine.

 

GATEKEEPER

(raising his hands) Begging your pardon, your lordship.  We didn’t realize you’d brought your dog.

 

He turns and leaves, kicks Galen once along the way.  Ilyich quickly helps Galen up.

 

ILYICH

Your tongue might get you in trouble, kaleka.

 

GALEN

You should see me in a temper.

 

ILYICH

I think I’ve seen you before.

 

GALEN

I was told it’s only a crime to beg inside the walls.

 

ILYICH

It’s only a crime to be poor.  You could have been better warned.  I hope you don’t think we’re all so wicked as our laws though.

 

GALEN

Some men are only as good. (puzzled) You remind me of someone.

 

ILYICH

No one from around here, I hope.  Come, I’ll see you out safely.

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Story Notes: The Midnight Dances               Chapter 10: Pressure Points

Photos by Pixabay and Unsplash

 

Research Notes:

For purposes of a realistic setting, part of my research for this story delved into ancient examples social inequality.  This led me to a tractate of the Babylonian Talmud detailing the sins of the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah.  Rather than speaking at length on the cities’ sexual deviance, every crime is blamed on the continual abuse of the poor, vilification of poverty, and the imbalance of power in favor of the haves over the have-not’s.

Deleted Scenes I: Subplots

This scene would be around the end of Chapter 12 (link below).  As I slowly give this script its novelization behind the scenes, I have the space and time to develop relationships more, so here’s some father-daughter dynamics and then some.  

Story Notes: The Midnight Dances       12: The Dyer’s Kingdom


 

EXT. THE EASTERN WALLTOP – EVENING

Tugarin stands on the wall, looking out across Dyers Meadow, watching Pavel talk to Znakov on the road.  His ubiquitous guard is spread along the wall, but his closest companions are the skulls. 

 

HELGA (O.S.)

Your majesty?

Tugarin tears his eyes away.  Helga smiles pityingly a few paces off.  Medved and her guard take up a post on the stair.  Tugarin lifts an arm and Helga slips under it.

 

HELGA (CONT’D)

Surgev said you were here.

 

TUGARIN

I thought you were resting.

 

HELGA

I was.  It’s nearly sunset.

 

TUGARIN

Is it?

 

They watch the fields.  Helga’s eyes stray up to the skulls.

 

HELGA

Does this one need your special attention?

 

TUGARIN

He’s different.

 

HELGA

They all want the same thing in the end.

 

TUGARIN

Wash your mouth.

 

But he holds her tighter.  She looks at him worriedly.

 

HELGA

What is it?

 

TUGARIN

You know you’re my favorite, Helga?

 

HELGA

What’s wrong?

 

TUGARIN

Our diplomat thinks the matter might be sorcery.

 

HELGA

Does that make you feel powerless?

 

TUGARIN

Nearly, but then I have you.  You would tell me, wouldn’t you, so I could skin the black-haired bastard?

 

HELGA

They’re not all black-haired, and they’re not all men—and have Medved do it.  His work’s cleaner.

 

Medved’s jaw clenches for just an instant.

 

TUGARIN

You are my favorite. (beat) I’m sorry I can’t protect you.

 

They watch Pavel again.

 

HELGA

Will a diplomat fare any better?

 

TUGARIN

I’d like to see him try.

 

She leans on the wall in thought, then mischief.

 

HELGA

With his shirt off maybe?

 

TUGARIN

Wash.  Your.  Mouth.

 

He kisses her forehead, still looks worried.

 

TUGARIN (CONT’D)

Have I done any wrong by you, Helga?

 

HELGA

Why would you say that?

 

TUGARIN

It’s nothing.

 

HELGA

(shrewdly) Was his lordship frostbitten by my cold shoulder?

 

TUGARIN

It seems not to bother him.

 

HELGA

That shows no promise, for me in any case.

 

TUGARIN

Is there enough soap in the kingdom for your mouth?

 

HELGA

Not in the world, and I believe my teacher is standing with me on this wall.

 

TUGARIN

I thought so.  Medved, I’ll have you whipped later.

 

MEDVED

(deadpan) Yes, sire.

 

HELGA

Enjoy the sunset, and the view.

 

She kisses Tugarin’s cheek, curtsies, and glides away with her guard.   Tugarin looks down at the path as Pavel strides up the hill.  The king smiles, just a little.

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Story Notes: The Midnight Dances       12: The Dyer’s Kingdom

Intermission I: Liar, Liar       Intermission II

Photo from Unsplash