Intermission

Background: Originally, I was going to have this as the opening, but I felt it ran too long and it seemed better to shorten the estrangement between Koschei and his sister to only a few years.  Even so, it was fun to write, so here it is as a deleted scene for your amusement between now and the last half of the story.  If you like, feel free to read it against Chapter One as a prologue and tell me what you think!


EXT. / INT. TISHINA –  MORNING

ONCE UPON A TIME

A fanciful kingdom, complete with

A CASTLE

on a frosted hill, decked for a royal wedding.  It has towers. 

A TOWER BEDROOM

MORYA (18) stands dressed in a white gown.  Morya is lovely and intelligent-looking.  She wrings a crepe veil.

 

MORYA

This is the nicest thing I’ve ever owned.

 

A friendly MAIDSERVANT ties off her long hair.  

 

MAIDSERVANT

Well, you’re about to own quite a nice husband too, milady.

 

Morya smiles.  Out on THE BALCONY, a raven lands.  Morya notices immediately.

 

RAVEN

Milady, milady, might I come in?

 

MAIDSERVANT

Oh, those crows…

 

MORYA

It’s a raven, I think.

 

MAIDSERVANT

I’ll be right back with your flowers, milady.

 

She scampers out.  Morya hurries onto

 

THE BALCONY

No one’s there.  She looks puzzled.  

A draft sways the drapes. 

Suddenly someone’s behind her:  Her twin brother, Koschei.

 

KOSCHEI

So, we’re both moving up in the world?

 

He’s dressed in night-black and mischief.  She turns.  They share an instant smile.

 

MORYA

Where have you been?

 

KOSCHEI

Here and there.

 

MORYA

How did you get up here?

 

KOSCHEI

A sorcerer can have his secrets, can’t he?

 

MORYA

I’m about to be queen; you could have used the front gate.

 

KOSCHEI

It lacks something of the dramatic.

 

MORYA

Well, you have to come down, meet everyone.

 

KOSCHEI

I’ve only stopped by for a moment.

 

He unfolds an ornate wooden flute from his sleeve, grins.  She takes it, looks up, amazed.

 

MORYA

You found it.

 

KOSCHEI

I’ve already been to Kalinov Bridge.

 

He flicks his robe.  Cinders flake off.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

And met the fire-breathing dragon.

 

MORYA

And this worked?

 

KOSCHEI

Just like in the stories.  Sleeping like a baby.

 

MORYA

This is amazing.

 

KOSCHEI

It’s a gift fit for a queen.

 

She’s suddenly serious.

 

MORYA

You’ve already been there.

 

KOSCHEI

I’ll be somewhere else in a moment.

 

MORYA

Can’t you stay just a while?

 

KOSCHEI

If all goes well, we’ll have time to spare.

 

The draft blows.  She looks up.  He’s gone.

 

INT. THE GREAT HALL – LATER

A raven watches through a window as Morya weds SYMON (20), the crown prince.

It flies off, and time passes.

INT.  TISHINA CASTLE – NOON (ONE YEAR LATER)

THE BEDROOM

A cradle.  BABY MARTIN kicks and whines, furious at his confines.  Morya is embroidering an eagle on red cloth.  She hums pleasantly.

 

MORYA

You can’t wait to see the world, can you, my Martin?

 

The maidservant is tending a lamp.  THREE RAVENS land on the balcony.  

 

RAVENS

(one after the other) Milady… .milady… might we come in?

 

Morya’s startled, then relaxes.

 

MAIDSERVANT

Those noisy birds again.

 

MORYA

They’re harmless.  I’ll call if I need you?

 

The maidservant slips out and Morya hurries to the balcony.  

A breeze catches the drapes.

Koschei’s behind her again.

 

KOSCHEI

So, old-fashioned immortality?

 

His smile’s gone cynical, but he hugs her.

 

MORYA

Where have you been?

 

KOSCHEI

Here and there.

 

Martin fusses.  Morya scoops him up.  

 

MORYA

And what have you been up to?

 

KOSCHEI

A sorcerer can have his secrets, can’t he?

 

Baby Martin scowls at Koschei, so he scowls back.

 

MORYA

Won’t you stay awhile?

 

KOSCHEI

I’ve only stopped by for a moment.

 

He holds up a fine horse harness out of nowhere, smiles.  

She takes it, amazed.

 

MORYA

You found it.

 

Martin immediately gums it.

 

KOSCHEI

I’ve already been to Baba Yaga’s stables to win a horse.

 

He dusts off bits of straw haughtily.

 

MORYA

The witch?

 

KOSCHEI

Just like in the stories.  It tames any animal.

 

MORYA

This is amazing.

 

KOSCHEI

A gift fit for a firstborn prince.

 

MORYA

(beaming) Won’t you stay awhile?

 

She tries to pluck straw from his hair.  He steps away.

 

KOSCHEI

If all goes well, we’ll have time to spare.

 

A breeze hits the drapes and he’s gone.

In the distance, horse hooves beat and fade.  Morya puts Martin in his crib.  He whines.  She picks up her embroidery.

Time passes.

 

EXT. / INT. TISHINA CASTLE – AFTERNOON (SIX YEARS LATER)

THE COURTYARD

A YOUNG MARTIN in a red cloak rides a pony through the courtyard.  A YOUNG TEACHER watches with care.

THE BEDROOM

Same cradle, new baby:  BABY LOREN examines the gears of his rattle.  It clacks.

Morya’s nodded off.  Now she opens her eyes, smiles warmly. 

Her maidservant recovers her embroidery from the floor. 

 

MORYA

Thank you.

 

It’s a falcon on a blue field.

 

MORYA

(to Loren) You want to understand everything already, don’t you, my Loren?

 

SEVEN RAVENS land on the balcony.  The maidservant shoos them.  They land the instant she goes inside.

 

RAVENS #1 – 7

(one after another) Mi… lady… mi… lady…, might we… come in?

 

MORYA

I think I would like some tea…

 

The servant leaves. 

Wringing her skirts, Morya steps onto the balcony.  

The drapes rattle in a gust.  

Her brother again, a bit older.  The black’s hemmed with faint, Glagolitic runes.  

 

KOSCHEI

So, we’re both feeling our age?

 

MORYA

You’ve had me so worried.

 

He stands stiffly at her embrace.

 

MORYA

Where have you been?

 

KOSCHEI

Here and there.

 

Loren fusses.  Morya picks him up.  

 

MORYA

And what have you been up to?

 

KOSCHEI

A sorcerer can have his secrets, can’t he?

 

Loren and Koschei study each other.

 

MORYA

Won’t you stay awhile?

 

KOSCHEI

I’ve only stopped by for a moment.

 

He holds up a set of fine leather boots, smirks.

 

MORYA

You found them.

 

She takes them carefully, amazed.  Loren tries to grab the strings.

 

KOSCHEI

And I found the spring of souls.

 

He flicks his robe.  Frost flakes off.

 

MORYA

That’s in Soul Haven…

 

KOSCHEI

Just like in the stories.  These shoes walk quiet enough to sneak up on a mouse.

 

Morya looks worried.

 

MORYA

I almost can’t believe it.

 

KOSCHEI

Another gift fit for another prince.

 

He turns away.

 

MORYA

Maybe you should stop…

 

KOSCHEI

You first.

 

He’s looking at the cradle.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

After this one.

 

MORYA

You saw something?

 

KOSCHEI

I’ll be back at least once more.

 

The gust tears at the drapes and he vanishes.  Hoofbeats fade in the distance.  Morya holds Loren worriedly.

Time passes.

 

EXT. / INT. TISHINA CASTLE – SUNSET (SIX YEARS LATER)

A YOUNG LOREN sits in a window of the library with a book, but looks more interested in watching Martin fight his now-middle-aged teacher.  

The swords are wood and clack as they hit.

 

YOUNG MARTIN

Ah hah!

 

TEACHER

(a easy parry) Patience, young prince.

 

YOUNG MARTIN

I almost had you!

 

TEACHER

Let’s try again.

 

A stern TUTOR with a book paces behind Loren.

 

TUTOR

As you were reading, my young lord…

 

YOUNG LOREN

Yes, um… (reading) “And so the duties of a king and his queen are as shared as the weaver and his wife, for the good of the kingdom…”

 

THE BEDROOM

Same cradle, one more baby.  BABY IVAN is a big, quiet infant.  He cuddles a soft toy.  His eyes are a bit close together.

Morya’s hair is going gray.  She squints as she embroiders a turtledove on green cloth.  Her maidservant, in a shawl over graying hair, tends the fire.

 

MORYA

You’re so gentle, aren’t you, my Ivan?

 

Outside, another clack.

 

YOUNG MARTIN (O.S.)

Got you this time!

 

TEACHER (O.S.)

Not quite yet, young prince…

 

Morya smiles warmly. 

A row of THIRTEEN RAVENS land on the balcony, and yet the servant still doesn’t notice.  

Ivan looks up, hugs the toy protectively.  

 

RAVENS

(together) Milady, milady, might we come in?

 

MORYA

(worried, to the maidservant) I think I’d like some quiet.

 

The maidservant leaves.  Morya steps between birds and crib, worried, as the door shuts.

A sudden gale and a flock of ravens spill chaos into the room.  Curtains tear.  The cradle topples.  

One raven lands to harass Ivan.  Morya kicks it hard.

She picks up Ivan and clutches him tight.  The wind dies down.

It’s quiet.

 

KOSCHEI (O.S.)

You just couldn’t stop, could you?

 

He’s behind her, looking pitying and bitter.

 

MORYA

Did you?

 

KOSCHEI

Well, we are twins.

 

Ivan cries.  Morya stoops and recovers his toy.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

Tell me you have no regrets.

 

MORYA

None.

 

She picks up a blanket, bundles Ivan into the cradle.

 

KOSCHEI

Aren’t you going to invite me to stay?

 

MORYA

I hardly expect you to come bearing gifts this time.

 

KOSCHEI

I prefer surprises anyway.

 

He holds out a coil of rope.  She stares at it worriedly.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

You know the story?

 

She stares at the rope.

 

MORYA

The Underworld’s bottomless pit.  No rope can reach to its wellspring…

 

KOSCHEI

…except this one. (proudly) The other spring, Morya, the spring that heals all wounds.  The last ingredient.

 

He offers the rope.

 

MORYA

I’ve no intention of visiting the Underworld by rope.

 

KOSCHEI

Going the old-fashioned way?

 

She won’t answer.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

You should come with me next time.

 

Ivan cries.  A RAVEN hovers at the cradle.  Morya drives it off.

MORYA

Get away, you!

KOSCHEI

(angrily) Here, you.

 

The raven lands on his hand.  He snaps his fingers —

— It bursts into feathers and drifting cinders.

Ivan cries again.  Morya’s horrified.

MORYA

What has happened to you?

KOSCHEI

I’m not the only one happy to forget our humble beginnings.

 

She’s speechless.  She watches the ash settle.

 

MORYA

(icily) Was it worth it?  Your “time to spare.”

 

KOSCHEI

“Time”?  Sister, I have eternity.

 

The ravens start to fly out.  Morya hands Ivan his toy.  Ivan comforts it in baby babble.

MORYA

I never want to see you again, Koschei.

KOSCHEI

Enjoy your immortality then.

 

The stormwind whisks him away.

Morya sits and cries.

 

EXT. A SHADOWY SIDESTREET – NIGHT.

A TAILOR’S HOUSE –  down the street from the ring of hammer and anvil.  

A knock.  The door creaks open.  A bent old woman, STACIA cranes her face up, then glances furtively up the street.  

The visitor, Morya, has Koschei’s gifts in a wooden box.

 

STACIA

He’s done it then?

 

She takes the box with care.  They seem to talk (MOS), then the queen slips away.

 Time passes uneventfully for seventeen years.


 

But what ever became of that flute?

I’ll let this link here be my fun facts section this week.  If you like Russian history, culture, and folklore, I highly recommend an afternoon’s browsing of the blog thereafter.  There’s always something interesting to read.

 

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12: A Family Matter

Last post before the midway break!  Feel free to browse from Chapter One.

As always, thanks for liking and following.  I’ll post something short next week from my WIP folder to keep a candle burning.  Happy Valentine’s Day! Continue reading

11: Together Again

In which an overdo reunion occurs.

Looking for Chapter One?  Here‘s the link.


 

EXT. THE FOREST – EVENING

THE CLEARING

A hushed bustle of supper and small talk.  Men eat around fires, roasting wild fowl.

Ropes tied to swords creak.  From them, Koschei sways upside-down in a tree.  Martin and Loren eat together and don’t look at him.  Loren studies a book.  Continue reading

10: What Stacia Knows

In which some origins are explained…

Or start at Chapter One.

 


EXT. THE CASTLETOWN – DAY

Ivan storms down a street.  He pounds a fist on a post, then another, then a third—the third is much shorter after.

A cat sleeps on Stacia’s windowsill.  It opens one eye.  It meows.

Stacia looks up, her hands full of mending.

Gero’s beating out a shoe.  He watches Stacia follow Ivan through town, out to

A POND

He throws a stone.  It skips once and goes plunk.  He tries again, frustrated.  Fish scatter and frog blinks at him. 

The songbirds watch, tittering in the trees.

 

STACIA

Good afternoon, my lord.

 

Ivan turns, frowns, picks up a stone.

 

IVAN

Leave me alone.

 

Plunk.

 

STACIA

Wasn’t a man not helped by an elder’s advice.

 

IVAN

Leave me alone or… or I’ll squash you.

 

He looks around as if desperate to prove it.  He crushes the rock, then throws it down and storms away, looking for a new one.

 

STACIA

Is that any way to speak to your elders, young man?  What would your mother say?

 

Ivan looks ashamed.

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

And I suppose you tried squashing this Koschei, did you?

 

IVAN

Mm.

 

STACIA

And how did that go?

 

Ivan sits down on a log.  She joins him.

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

And how did that make you feel?

 

Ivan breaks down in big sobs.

 

INT. THE TAILOR SHOP – SOON AFTER

Stacia pours tea.  Ivan’s a large man in a small chair.

 

STACIA

Koschei was much like you when he was little.

 

The cat weaves between Ivan’s feet.  He pets it.

 

IVAN

I’m stupid.

 

STACIA

You’re simple.  It’s not the same thing. (a thoughtful pause) Believe it or not, Vanya, Koschei was simple too.  He wanted one thing.

 

Ivan carefully accepts a teacup.

 

IVAN

What?

 

STACIA

For life to be fair.

 

IVAN

He doesn’t sound evil.

 

STACIA

I don’t believe he was at first.  But “fair” is a dangerous word when you’re at rock bottom.

 

IVAN

Why?

 

Stacia balances two sugar cubes on two ends of a spoon. 

 

STACIA

All “fair” means is “even.”

 

Ivan stares, amazed.

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

You can pull people up, or pull people down.

 

She puts the sugar in her cup, pours some tea. 

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

I’ll admit, I was hoping for the latter, hoping he’d rise up and try to do some good with his gift.  Eventually, he found a teacher.

 

The cat meows.  She sets out a saucer of cream.

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

His father didn’t like that, and Koschei had to run away from home.  His father wasn’t…

 

She catches Ivan’s wide, innocent stare.

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

(revising) …a very nice person.

 

She sits.

 

IVAN

And his mother?

 

STACIA

She died when he was very young.  I was the twins’ godmother.

 

IVAN

Did he do it?  Make life fair?

 

STACIA

He wouldn’t say in his letters, just that even his teacher hadn’t figured it out.

 

IVAN

He’s so smart, and strong, and everything…

 

STACIA

Koschei does have weaknesses, Vanya:  He’s alone.

 

IVAN

But I can’t use a sword.  I can’t read.  I’m too big to ride a horse.

 

STACIA

Now there is something, I might be able to help with.

 

INT. GERO’S SMITHY – DAY

The IRON DOOR buckles with a clang.

Gero steps back, a key in one hand, the last padlock in the other.

A coal-black horse beats down the door with flailing hooves.  It huffs smoke.  Its eyes glow red.

Stacia stands with Ivan in the doorway.  Ivan’s beaming.

 

IVAN

She must want to stretch her legs.

 

Stacia hands him a fine leather bridle.  Gero steps back and Ivan throws it over the horse’s head.

The red eyes flicker, then cool to blue.

 

IVAN (CONT’D)

Where did you get this?

 

STACIA

I tried to give it to Martin, then Loren.  Neither were interested in magic.

 

IVAN

It’s amazing.  She’s amazing.

 

He pets the horse.

 

GERO

Her name’s Vigla.  Took me on quite a few adventures in my time.

 

IVAN

Vigla?  Do you want to go on a new adventure, Vigla?

 

The horse blinks, shakes its mane, sniffs.  Ivan pats its nose. 

OUTSIDE THE SHOP

Ivan leads the horse out while Stacia looks up the street at the castle.  A few PASSERSBY (ND) stare and pass faster.  

Gero carries out a saddle and starts latching it on.  Ivan is still petting the horse’s nose.

 

IVAN (CONT’D)

I’ll bet you just can’t wait to go for a run, huh?

 

He scratches the horse’s ears, and Gero gives Stacia a satisfied nod.

 

GERO

Can you ride, your highness?

 

IVAN

When I was little — er, when I wasn’t so big.

 

STACIA

Why don’t you take her for a ride, Ivan, while I talk to your father?

 

GERO

Are you sure that’s wise, Stacia?

 

STACIA

It’ll be fine.  I have a feeling.

 

INT. THE CASTLE – LATER

Stacia strolls to the keep.  She stops, looks right, walks around to

A GARDEN

The king is feeding scraps to sparrows.  He looks tired.

 

STACIA

Sire?

 

SYMON

Baba Stacia.

 

STACIA

I wonder if I might have a word?

 

SYMON

What about?

 

She hesitates, watching the sparrows.

 

STACIA

About my godson, Koschei.

 

Symon looks up.

 

EXT. THE LAND – CONTINUOUS

The air is clear and the sun is out.  Iron-shod hooves run across fields and over blurred mountains.  Silver boots sit in a pair of stirrups.  A rope is lashed to a saddle. 

 

IVAN

Woohoo!

 

Ivan rides Vigla at a charge.  They pass standalone trees and groves.  Birds take flight and some follow.

Ivan cradles the raven against one arm.  He’s delighted by the meadows, fields, and mountains rushing by.

The birds flutter merrily in his wake.  The raven tucks its beak away.

 

RAVEN

It’s a bit fast, isn’t it, master?

 

IVAN

Just a bit?

 

He steers Vigla on course and grins.

 

IVAN (CONT’D)

Faster, Vigla!

 

The raven moans, and he laughs.

 

INT. STACIA’S HOUSE – SAME TIME.

Stacia rocks in her chair, sewing.  Her cat sits on the windowsill.  

 

STACIA

The whole world is out of balance because of you, Koschei.

 

The cat twitches an ear.  

 

STACIA (CONT’D)

Have you truly lost your heart?


 

Fun Facts of the Week:  Magic & World Building

Magic vs. Sorcery—The Supernatural as Symbolic

  1. I’ve always enjoyed playing with the idea that magic, sorcery, enchantment, and the like are all different types of power.  As with any fairy tale universe, I had to ask myself what is magic to the culture of this story?
  2. According to Washington and Lee University,  in early modern Russia there wasn’t a housewife who didn’t know a bit of “magic.”  A particular herb, a special soup, or any homemade cure was essentially magic.  There might be a recipe hidden in a song, timed to simmer it just right.  A neighbor would not rat you out for making a cure for rheumatism; but if your potion turned to poison, you might get accused of witchcraft.  I heard a similar concept from a rabbi once:  The word “witch,” he explained, has any number of connotations these days, but in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible), the word could be taken literally to mean “poisoner.”
  3. So if magic is medicine, then sorcery is technology.   Add powder A to powder B, light it on fire, and—flash, bang, pop!—you’ve made something that eats through stone, or magnifies light, or catches heat.  Acceptable sorcery tames nature:  It makes concrete harden and dyes cloth blue.  Unacceptable sorcery corrupts nature:  It gives invincibility, flight, or super strength.
  4. Enchantment, on the other hand, is the mentalist pursuit, the nature of making things not as they are.  In English, the root is “chant,” and so suggests it involves measured speech, much like certain magic potions.  The idea of spoken verse also points to a power that predates writing, or at least mass literacy, perhaps something prehistorical, from a time when the supernatural was quite ubiquitous.  Vasilisa is turned into a frog.  A wolf disguises itself as a man.  A raven (or the whirlwind) is turned into a prince and back again.  Some enchantments are created by outside forces and have set conditions, others are the innate ability of the enchanted upon him- or herself, as with the snake women in Ivan Popyalof.
  5. As a bonus, what about writing?  The written equivalent of an enchantment would be a “spell,” since this implies letters.   The victims of witch hunts, according to W&LU, were often educated men with books full of written notes.  A spell is education, the knowledge that might beat the big bad boogie man of the prehistoric past, for good or ill.
  6. Regardless, using the supernatural in stories is more than a mode of entertainment.  These parallels with reality can carry themes about human progress, be it medicine, science, psychology, or technology.

Magic & Worldbuilding

  1. If there is power in the world than that power needs a source.  This is a given, whatever the pantheon or science of a fictitious world.
  2. The Slavic pantheon contains forces of light and darkness.  The latter is not necessarily wicked the way Western thought might frame it, but it certainly is chaotic.  I’ve pointed out before that the latter also tend to be feminine.  Since Koschei is fairly chaotic, and since he seems to appear in the Rescuing-Spring-From-Winter mythos, this association brought him into association with the dark, with death, and with cold.  He’s also unnatural, an affront to the idea of natural death.  His villainy is, therefore, not against only the protagonist but the natural world.
  3. I did a lot of research trying to find out if there was a deity in charge of unnatural death specifically.  The closest I could find was Maslenitsa, also called Morena, who in modern myth has been, as Wikipedia put it, reduced to the “death crone” in modern times.  However, when her effigy is burned and sent downriver, it is thought to bring about the thawing of the waters and thus allow for planting and harvest.   Fire and water are practically universal symbols of the spiritual, so crucial are they to life.  This freeing of the water hints at an association with Volos / Veles, whose climb to the thunder brings down the spring rain.  Both are necessary for the survival of human kind, even if their mischief causes some problems.  If I understand correctly, around midsummer or autumn, before her water burial, Maslenitsa loses a lover and so becomes a bitter old hag.  In a way, she becomes winter itself, which is a force of death in the northern hemisphere, not the least in ancient Rus-land.
  4. However, I couldn’t uncover much about Maslenitsa/Morena’s personality and so found my thoughts directed to Baba Yaga instead, who is helpful in some tales and harmful in others.  While never named a goddess, she nevertheless has nearly godlike powers.  Like Veles, she seems to live on the borderline between one world and the other.  Her home is always in a dark forest, but it is also where Vasilisa must go to get light.  The house is always decorated with human bones, yet a mortar and pestle is her transportation of choice.
  5. Baba Yaga’s proposed association with snakes (one interpretation of yaga) is also curious, since the snake is one of Veles’ forms, and since Ivan Popyalof’s version of the Koschei story features a snake as the villain rather than a person.
  6. I started to consider if associations of Maslenitsa with Baba Yaga might be feasible.  Both are cruel, but also have a sense of fairness, and both can help as well as harm.
  7. Of course, another aspect of world-building in fiction is respect for mythos in real life.  Since one person’s myth is another’s religion, I am still working with draft after draft, trying to reconcile these potential powers-that-be in a way that honors their origins but also reflects the story’s theme.  We’ll see how that goes in the second half of this tale.  I’d appreciate any tips and would love a second set of eyes from those more sensitive to the subject who might recommend better ways when something doesn’t quite ring true.

See you next time!

9: The Call

Or start at Chapter One.


EXT. THE FOREST – LATER

The soldiers carry Koschei on a pole, still full of swords.  He’s merry.

 

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

What are you going to do, young highnesses?  Torture me?

 

Martin and Loren walk together.  Loren’s recovered his now-dusty books.

 

MARTIN

(not looking back) I’m not interested in seeing your magic tricks, old man.

 

KOSCHEI

I’m as old as your mother.  Have some respect.

LOREN

Twins?  You’re too young.

KOSCHEI

“Deathless.”

LOREN

There is no such thing.

 

They reach the knoll and the sleeping stone.  Loren looks at Morya’s writing in the dust.

 

LOREN

Where did that come from?

 

MARTIN

Someone’s on our side.

 

Koschei scowls.

KOSCHEI

Your mother, most likely.

 

They look back, puzzled.

KOSCHEI (CONT’D)

It runs in the family.

 

LOREN

Where have you taken her?

 

MARTIN

Ignore him, Loren.  Here it is.  Whatever it is.

 

He points to the stone.  Loren hurries over.

 

LOREN

The entrance to the underworld.

 

MARTIN

How do you know?

 

Loren opens a tome and points down at the text.

 

LOREN

(he reads) <Tem samym lezhit bezdna preispodney. Dushi zhivykh, beregis’.>  (translating) “Hereunder lies the bottomless pit of the underworld.  Souls of the living, beware.”

MARTIN

Oh.

 

The ground shakes.  The white Stone yawns.

 

STONE

What are you going on about?

 

The soldiers scatter.  Loren falls back in alarm and Martin catches him.

The Stone skews a glance at Koschei.

 

STONE

(derisively) Koschei?  Well, what’s happened to you?

 

KOSCHEI

Nothing of lasting import, Potolok

 

STONE / POTOLOK

Which one of you urchins was scratching at me earlier?

 

Loren shoves Martin forward.

 

MARTIN

Are you going to open your gob now?

 

POTOLOK

Open my…?  The gall! (to Koschei) I don’t suppose you’ve given them admission.

 

KOSCHEI

It does no harm to let them look.

 

POTOLOK

Well, if my lord so asks…

 

Loren gives Koschei a sideways look.

 

LOREN

“My lord”?

 

MARTIN

Since when are you in charge of the underworld?

 

Koschei smirks.

Potolok yawns, then quivers, then heaves up onto one side. 

Dirt and weeds fall loose.  Its face slides to the opposite side.  It wobbles, then it falls with a crash, revealing —

— a gaping hole to the underworld.

 

MARTIN

(to the soldiers) Get some rope, tie it down!

 

LOREN

Iron pegs, Martin.

 

Koschei frowns.

The soldiers scramble for rope, tether Potolok down with metal pegs and mallets.

 

POTOLOK

I say!  What’s this about, Koschei?

 

KOSCHEI

(smugly) Let my nephews have their fun.

 

Potolok eyes the soldiers pounding in pegs.  It wobbles.  They stumble back and it guffaws.  A soldier beats down a final peg.

 

SOLDIER

Last one, sir.

 

Martin stoops, grabs a rock, walks to the hole’s edge. 

Dirt breaks away under his toes. 

He chucks the rock.  They watch and listen.

They keep listening.

Nothing.

 

POTOLOK

Quite a drop, isn’t it?

 

Loren and Martin exchange a determined look.  Koschei smirks again.

 

MARTIN

(to a soldier) Get me some rope.

 

EXT. THE UNDERWORLD – EVENING

A creaking rope hangs from the hole in the sky.  Sitting in a sling, Martin’s lowered down, turning slightly. 

He looks around. 

 

LOREN (O.S.)

Anything?

 

MARTIN

Give me some more slack. I’m still in the clouds.

 

LOREN (O.S.)

That’s all there is.

Martin looks around again. Ravens flit by.

The clouds part, and the land spreads out around him.

MARTIN

There’s a whole world down here.

 

KOSCHEI (O.S.)

And a whole world to get lost in.

ABOVE

LOREN

Can you make out anything?

MARTIN

Some forests… water… Nothing up here but a bunch of birds.

LOREN

How will we find her then?

 

Loren looks up.

KOSCHEI

You can’t. Only my ravens and I know where I’ve taken her.

 

BELOW

 

MARTIN

(watching the ravens) Pull me up.  I have an idea.

 

EXT. / INT. THE LIBRARY – DAY

The library window looks in on Ivan and Symon.

(Note: “Vanya” is the familiar diminutive form of “Ivan.”)

 

SYMON

Absolutely not.

 

A letter lies open on the table.  A SERVANT (ND) fidgets at the door.  Symon leans on a cane.  Ivan feeds strips of meat to a nervous raven, anxious.

 

IVAN

I can help.

 

SYMON

Send the bird with a servant.

 

IVAN

But I can finally help!  You let Loren go.  It’s not fair!

 

He walks to the table and sits.  The chair creaks.

 

SYMON

(patient) Vanya, there are many dangers in the wilderness.

 

IVAN

I’m strong.

 

SYMON

This sorcerer is strong too.  And wicked.  And clever.  It’s too dangerous to risk it.

 

Stiffly, he sits.  Ivan shuffles his feet.

 

IVAN

‘Cause I’m stupid.

 

SYMON

Vanya, no.

 

Ivan sniffs.

 

SYMON

The truth is… I’m too old to risk you.

 

IVAN

You’re not old.

 

SYMON

It’s true.  Your mother and I had even talked about it.

 

IVAN

When?

 

SYMON

Last winter.  Soon we’d like to retire.  One of you princes needs to get married, and become king.

 

IVAN

I’m not smart enough to be king or get married.

 

SYMON

Ivan…

 

IVAN

I’ll go and send Martin back.

 

SYMON

(a sigh) Let Martin and Loren tie up this sorcerer and lock him away forever.

 

The raven looks between them curiously as Ivan removes the bandage and checks the tether.

 

IVAN

What about mother?

 

SYMON

(sadly) This is hard for me too, Vanya.  How would she feel, if something bad happened to you?

 

Ivan’s grief-stricken. 

 

SYMON

There will be another time, but not as things are now.  That’s my word as the king.

 

Ivan stammers, then shakes his head and runs out, jostling a shelf on the way. 

Symon bends over his clasped hands and sighs.

 

RAVEN

He is kind, your majesty.

 

SYMON

Kindness won’t defeat a sorcerer.

 

RAVEN

Nothing else has worked, has it?

 


Fun Facts about Succession, Transliteration, and Translation, severally

  1. In a fairy tale of Ivan the Fool, the king and queen wish to abdicate to the first son to marry.  The son’s search for a bride is carried out before he is in charge of the kingdom.  In the fairy tale of Maria Morevna, Ivan’s parents don’t charge him to marry at all.  Instead, they insist he make sure his three sisters marry happily.  In the end, this saves his life.
  2. A note on transliteration:  Russian orthography contains two small letters, ъ or ь, which make no sound of their own but denote a break between “hard” or “soft” consonants, respectively, so that following vowels have a more distinct “y” sound, rather than blending together.  In Roman letters, the soft sign is denoted by what looks like an apostrophe after the soft consonant.  If you’re curious, you can get a better gist of it from this video from the University of South Carolina.
  3. I’m aware that technically speaking, Loren would have been saying the same thing twice, and that his ancient book is only as good as modern Google Translate; but, for the sake of fiction, let’s pretend the princes don’t know they’re speaking English.  I plan on leaving this text here as a place-marker only, until I figure out where to find some decent references on older Slavic language.

Aside: Scheduling Note

For all of you closer to the epicenter and the tsunamis, stay safe.

Next post is scheduled (yay, productivity), but since things are a bit scary here geologically, I wanted to leave a note that the next blog post might be a bit delayed if the earth doesn’t go back to sleep.  Hopes are, my neighbors and I will be well away from any severe danger, but we wait with baited breath and well-packed emergency packs just in case.

Take care, everyone!