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EXT./INT. STOLIST PALACE – NIGHT
THE GREAT HALL
An opulent feast. Lords and ladies and tradesmen crowd tables and socialize.
THE PALACE WALLS
Along a wall-walk, grim-faced SOLDIERS pace on lookout.
THE MAIN GATE
Lords and merchants enter. Beggars crowd the high road, fall back as GATEKEEPERS brandish spears.
(singing) “I’ve no treasure in this world / as golden as the Dawn…”
Galen stands back, watching.
(singing) “…and She is gold for all, / even the pauper’s son.”
A few merchants sneer. Some BOYARS in tall hats dig in pockets.
One pale-haired, white-capped YOUNG MAN watches Galen.
(singing) “To all your fields and gardens, / good, sirs, She prays true…
The young man tosses a silver coin —
(catching; spoken) Thank you, good sir.
— and limps inside.
(singing) To her Father, the Thunder, / and her lover the Dew.”
INSERT: The coin: A raised image of Bald Mountain.
THE GREAT HALL
Color-coordinated sets of soldiers (CAPTAINS and GUARDS (ND)) attend Helga and TEN other PRINCESSES. Smiles are rare and polite.
Opposite, BOYARS and LADIES dance, feast, and socialize. Lone lords glower through beards, and pairs whisper. ATTENDANTS float trays of wine here and there, interrupting.
Pavel crosses the room, watching everything. He plucks a glass off one tray, sets it down on another.
INTERCUT – PRINCESSES
Interviews: Guards noticeable throughout:
–Twins, ILYA AND INNA (15), in green, share dessert.
Do you sleep well here?
Like a log.
If a log snored.
Like a log being sawed at.
That’s a good one.
(to Pavel) It’s a creepy question, you know.
–ANNA (19), in red, sits wringing a folding fan:
Oh, I don’t like dancing. I get… dizzy. I don’t like talking much either. I really don’t like parties. I just… Ahem.
She falls quiet.
–EKATERINA (16), in black, turns a page of poetry:
I imagine a dozen or so people here hate my father. But you can’t control people. (beat) To be honest, maybe two dozen.
Your book is upside-down.
–DINARA (18), in yellow, skins grapes with a dangerous fingernail:
Oh, they’re the king’s guards, not mine. Why don’t you have any, ambassador?
–ETNA (17) and ILYA (18) dance indifferently:
What do you care about our sleeping arrangements, your lordship?
(to Etna) Let’s have at the servants for gossiping.
They flounce off to where three siblings (MINT, 22; PEACH, 21; and LILAC, 20) politely socialize. All cluster and whisper with pointedly looks.
Well, that’s that.
ACROSS THE ROOM
Helga dances with the king.
The rest were dogs. I don’t see why he wouldn’t be.
But I like this one.
Then don’t kill him and maybe we can be friends.
You could just tell me why your shoes are wearing out overnight.
I told you, I don’t know.
Tugarin catches Pavel’s eye, nods towards a knot of boyars. Pavel bows in acknowledgement.
INTERCUT – BOYARS
All between 30 and 60, in Technicolor. We won’t see most again, but they’re clothes are just-noticeably worn:
–GREEN (30s), picks at cold cuts:
You specialize in…?
Leather. It’s the drought.
(around a bite) Used to be cattle.
–MALEN ZNAKOV (40s), in blue, towels his hands on a tablecloth:
(shameless) Well, they’re mine anyway. I’m in the dyeing business, you see.
You’re an… undertaker, Lord Znakov?
Dyeing, Lord Ilmenov.
He shows blue fingertips.
A bit of black humor, is all. It’s how I cope. Things have been rather horrid, haven’t they, what with the…?
–RED (40s), nervous:
…drought? It’s catching up to our borders, I think.
He fingers a fraying sleeve.
I imagine the tariffs are a bit high these days?
Not at all. Me and mine are more worried by the…
–YELLOW (late 50s), death glare, spearing raisins on a pick:
…war, to be honest. Be glad you don’t have one.
You’re at war?
Tsar Xing, our eastern neighbor. Thousands of your young men out there — My son, too, in fact.
How long has that been?
–VIOLET (40s) and PINK (40s), brothers, take turns:
Nine, it is…
…next month to the day.
Our boys work one province back from the front line at the carpentry —
Siegeworks, that is.
— and mine’s got a wife now.
We send care packages.
Books, herbs, blankets, and…
–LORD BELIYA (50s), stone-faced.
He’s white-trimmed, somehow sober.
Shoes, Lord Beliya?
Beliya empties his wine glass.
Good shoes make all the difference for a soldier up to his knees in corpses and mud.
He trades glasses from a fresh tray.
If you don’t mind my asking, milord, how did the war start?
It was almost an alliance. But our Helga — (pained, angry) the crown princess — she was thirteen. The Tsar of Xing has no sons and too many wives. You don’t need me to finish?
Good man. Not that she wasn’t unwilling. She’s selfless, our Helga. Any of your own?
I’m sorry, milord?
No, I’m not married. It’s the work.
Find time. And don’t lose a minute.
He drops off the emptied glass and walks straight towards the gardens exit.
Now that is interesting.
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Images by Pixabay & Unsplash
Language Notes: Red Stains for Blue
- Actually, if this were written in Russian, Lord Znakov’s pun would probably have been more along the lines of often being caught “blue-handed” as a pun on “red-handed,” but a more clever pun is available with some acrobatic linguistics:
- In Russian, both to dye (краситель / krasetiel) and the color red (красный / krasnih) are related to the stem for beautiful (краса / krasa). As a side-note, red was related to gold in that each was a semi-sacred, a symbol of riches and, on occasion, the Underworld, where gold is plentiful. In any case, Znakov probably would have gotten a few eye-rolls for making “kras” jokes. (I’m sure that pun just did.)
- Fun fact: As readers of A Queen’s Ransom might recall, Galen wasn’t always a good singer—not that he’d admit it.
- So that’s most of our suspects, but the party’s not over yet! Some adaptations of this fairy tale cut down the number of princesses for simplicity’s sake, but, imho, nothing spoils a whodunit like cutting the cast and giving one person male pattern baldness. I’d add a link at this point, but it’d have to be to pretty much all movie posters… ever.
- On that note, the war with Xing (a proto-China vagarity) is my addition. In many stories, an added mystery is that the princesses all sleep ‘til noon, which always seemed odd to me given the supernatural nature of that situation. In most versions, either the eldest or youngest daughter is a cut above the rest for good or ill, so Helga’s an early bird.
Song of the Post
I’ve no treasure in this world
as golden as the Dawn,
and She is gold for all,
even the pauper’s son.
To all your fields and gardens,
good, sirs, She prays true
To her Father, the Thunder
and her lover the Dew.”