9: Forces at Work

Welcome back!  Here’s Chapter One if you missed it.

Abundant thanks for all your likes and follows.

You have no idea how much they mean to me.


EXT.  DOLINA.  NIGHT.

A road.  Sasha walks until she’s weary, then sinks under a roadside tree.  

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5: The Blind Moon

Just arrived?  Read from the beginning here. 


 

EXT.  DOLINA FIELDS.  CONTINUOUS.

Pavel and Liev ride to Skomorokh.  Now and then they check a map.  As they go, the moon wanes.  When it’s gone they arrive at —

EXT.  CHERNAYA RIVERSIDE. NIGHT.

THE BLACK CAT INN

The horses are stabled and A LOOSE COMPANY OF MEN watches Liev and Pavel approach the swollen riverside.  

Pavel eyes the trees.  Liev glares at the torrent.

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2: The King’s Tragedy

One post too far?  Here’s Chapter One.


EXT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  DAY.

THE COURTYARD

Morning.   Pomp and loose ceremony.  A crowd, the pageantry of warriors and nobles.  A HERALD makes the announcement:

 

HERALD

Her highness, Princess Aleksandra of Merya, has arrived!

 

Cheers.

 

The wagons creak and splash in puddles behind, Sasha and her entourage halt.  Servants hurry to assist.  Sasha looks around nervously as her escort mingles with servants.

SASHA

(to herself) Where will I find a moment in this place?

 

Liev spots Sasha as she’s looking around.  He stares in surprise.  Pavel moves to pass by and Liev catches his arm.

 

LIEV

Do I look alright?

 

PAVEL

You look like you, if that’s…

 

Liev has vanished into the crowd.  Pavel spots Sasha and chuckles.

 

A page stumbles with a harp-sized chest behind Sasha.

 

SASHA

Oh, be careful with that one.

 

LIEV

What’s that one?

 

She turns again and smiles, surprised.

 

SASHA

Who…?  Liev! (shy, then coy) Of course, I mean, your highness.

 

She curtsies.  He bows.

LIEV

(smiling) Princess.

 

SASHA

But you’re taller now.

 

LIEV

You stole my first compliment.

 

SASHA

(teasing) And you had no second compliment planned?  For shame.

 

LIEV

I had so many planned, I’ve just completely forgotten them now.

 

SASHA

Best to fall back on formalities then.

 

LIEV

I suppose:  Welcome to Dolina, your highness.

 

SASHA

It’s a start.

 

LIEV

What next?

 

SASHA

I believe you’re supposed to be honored by my presence or something.

 

LIEV

No, we’re only supposed to talk about how honored we are with each other’s presence at the stair over there.

 

Sasha offers her hand.

 

SASHA

We should go there then.

 

LIEV

But I’m pleased with your company here.

 

He takes her hand, and she smiles.

 

SASHA

Would it please you to show me around?

 

LIEV

Very much so.

 

She glances back once at the chest.

 

INT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  SAME TIME.

THE HIGHEST TOWER

Low light.  Viktor leans on his iron sword, this time grim.

Nikolai stands back, seeming small.  Viktor watches Liev.  Sasha speaks (MOS), an attendant gawks, Liev smiles, the three of them laugh.

 

NIKOLAI

(peacemaking) I suppose Merya is too small to care for court manners.

 

Viktor leaves the window. 

 

VIKTOR

(muted thunder) Let them be, Nikolai.

 

Nikolai stiffens, watches him limp to the bedside table, pick up and inspect the ring’s crack.  It’s worsened.

 

VIKTOR

A little disorder won’t hurt anyone.

 

NIKOLAI

(hopeful) You seem to be feeling better today…

 

VIKTOR

I am not.  You’ve told me of her arrival.  It seems a dowry well-matched.  If you’ve no further use here —

 

He sets down the ring with a click.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

— you may go.

 

Nikolai’s hurt, hides it, bows.

 

NIKOLAI

Yes, your majesty.

 

INT.  DOLINA CASTLE.  NIGHT.

THE THRONEROOM

A ball with prestigious guests.  At the end of the room is the carved throne on a plinth, empty.  Musicians tune up in a LOFT.

Liev introduces Sasha to guests; currently in line are LADY ANNA, and LORD VADI.

 

LIEV

And this is Lady Anna.

 

SASHA

Lady Anna.  I’m told it was you who wove the lovely tapestry in the west hall.

 

ANNA

Why, yes, thank you dear…

 

LIEV

And this is…

 

SASHA

(excitedly) Lord Vadi, of the music guild.  All Merya’s merchants praise your craftsmen.

 

VADI

(pleased) Your highness, you flatter me.

 

SASHA

Not at all.  They’re wonderful.

 

She and Liev move on.


LIEV

(quietly) Is there anything from my letters you don’t remember?

 

SASHA

You’re favorite color is…


LIEV

(a test) Blue.

 

SASHA

Green.  But your father’s favorite color is blue.

 

Liev stops to kiss her hand.

 

LIEV

You have no idea how much I appreciate you.

 

She smiles.  They wrap arms and walk a bit closer.

 

LIEV

My father doesn’t know the extent of my diplomatic interest yet.  He won’t, until I have something to show for it.

 

SASHA

Shouldn’t a king be open to the idea either way?

 

Pavel arrives, cards in hand.

PAVEL

(to Liev) Your highness, the musicians are finally tuned.  I think a dance will soon be in order.

 

He bows to Sasha.

 

PAVEL (CONT’D)

This must be her mysterious highness.

 

LIEV

It is.


SASHA

(playfully) And this must be the court’s clown.

 

LIEV

Close enough.  Pavel Nikolaevich Ilmenov, the Princess Aleksandra Vasilevna, Sasha to her friends.

 

PAVEL

Your highness.  I shall hope to be deserving of friendship, if you would but choose a card…

 

Sasha smiles slyly and does.  He seems to shuffle it back in.

 

PAVEL

Who knows where it’s gone?

 

Sasha steps around him and steals her card from his sleeve.  Queen of hearts.

 

PAVEL

Bested by a stranger!  Prince Liev, you’ll stand for that?

 

LIEV

I think I will, and so will you.  Our new princess is well-studied, Pavel.

 

SASHA

My mother always said knowledge breeds affection.

 

NIKOLAI (O.S.)

If it goes both ways.

 

They all turn to him, startled.

 

NIKOLAI (CONT’D) 

Pavel, it’s just past sundown.

 

PAVEL

And the watch is in place, Father.

 

NIKOLAI

(to Sasha) I don’t believe we’ve met.

 

PAVEL

Princess, if you’ll allow me, this is my father, Lord Nikolai Ilmenov, head of the nobles.

 

He beams for Nikolai’s frown.

 

SASHA

(offering her hand) Lord Nikolai, Liev wrote you’re a close friend of his family.

 

NIKOLAI

(taking it with a bow) All my life.  You met as children, I understand?

 

SASHA

A few summers before the arrangements were made.

 

NIKOLAI

Still, our prince has been very secretive, as have you.

 

SASHA

Milord?

 

NIKOLAI

Princess, it’s been nearly an hour and no lord or lady I speak to knows a thing about you.

 

LIEV

Now, Nikolai…

 

NIKOLAI

This is our future queen, your highness, and still a complete stranger.

 

SASHA

(insistent) I won’t be for long, sir.  I’ve studied the ways of Dolina for as long as my own.

 

NIKOLAI

Admirable.  And you’ve studied the castle?

 

SASHA

Milord?

 

A gesture at soil on her shoes.

 

NIKOLAI

You’ve already been in the back garden.  And… the kitchens, I think.  You’ve met our hearth-woman?

 

LIEV

Sonya wasn’t in when we went by.

 

He taps one foot and Nikolai glances down, then up.

 

NIKOLAI

So by that, your highness, you’ve also been to at least the armory, the library, the galleries, and the stables.

 

Sasha secrets a bit of straw from her hair, but laughs.

 

SASHA

(to Liev) You were right, my lord, he really does know everything.

 

NIKOLAI

My only point is, princess, I know our prince as well as my own son.  This is a party to endear you to our people as well, and you leave us to guess.

 

PAVEL

Now, father…

 

NIKOLAI

As I can only guess about those callouses on your fingertips.

 

Something occurs to him.  He steps forward and she wrings her hands.

 

NIKOLAI

What do you say, Liev?  Perhaps from needlepoint?

 

Sasha swallows, suddenly nervous.

 

SONYA (O.S.)

Your highness…

 

They all look.  Sonya stands, hollow-eyed, a few feet away.

 

SONYA (CONT’D)

(to Liev) He’s asking for you, your highness.  I’m sorry, but I think you should come right away.

 

They follow her out to —

 

THE HIGHEST TOWER

Moments later.  The moon approaches with its knife.  The king sits half-reclined in shadow, sword in hand, waiting for it.

The ring is missing from the table.

An ELDER leaves troubled.  Liev enters, hesitates as others follow and ring the room.  Sonya gently prods him forward.  Sasha stands back with the Ilmenovs.

Liev crosses the room.  He kneels between the dark bed and the light.

 

Note: Throughout, Sasha is troubled by Viktor’s behavior while others take it as granted.

 

LIEV

Father?

 

Viktor draws a deep breath.  His speech is slow, firm, but sometimes difficult.

 

VIKTOR

Liev. (A pause) I know you are young.  I married your mother so late. (sigh) I am sorry to leave you so soon before your wedding, Liev.  Of course, I wish you the happiness I never had.

 

Liev flinches.

 

VIKTOR

I’m sorry I could never love your mother.  A king must make sacrifices for his kingdom.  Remember that.

 

LIEV

Yes, father.

 

VIKTOR

Liev, I hope you will never have to sacrifice as I have.  All I can think of in these last moments is the burden I must leave to you, the shadow of the Silent King.

 

Nervous glances in the crowd, but for Nikolai and Sonya, who watch.

 

VIKTOR

His enchanted forest of Skomorokh broods at our peaceful doorstep, but do you know how the Silent King became our enemy?

 

LIEV

You’ve spoken so little of it…

 

VIKTOR

I will tell you enough now. (a sigh) I can remember it clearly, though it was decades ago.

 

He opens his fist.  The ring is there.  Weakly, he passes it to Liev, folding his son’s fingers around it.  He holds tight.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

I have kept this all that time.  It is too precious to lose.

 

The broken stone catches moonlight.  We hear distant harpstrings

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

(wistful) I was young once, and in love, with Lady Irina, the loveliest harper in all Dolina.

 

…and dissonance

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

(grieved) But, before we could wed, my ally, King Ivan of Tishina, came to us at Meadow Haven, and kidnapped her.

 

…and a vague clashing of swords.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

I was wounded, fighting for her.  I couldn’t stop him.  His sorcery was too great…

 

A rapt audience.  Sasha sees Sonya clutch her own wrist.  Why?  Their eyes meet.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

It is he who created Skomorokh between our two kingdoms.  Not a day goes by, when I do not curse his name.

 

His grip tightens until the iron sword rattles.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

Not one of my people could ever make it through Skomorokh for me.  Not one could do this for me.

 

Bowed, Nikolai shakes off Pavel’s concerned hand.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

(shrewd) It will take more than writing letters to rub out a sorcerer, Liev.  He is not like other men.  He is not reasonable, not peaceful.  You cannot fight him with “diplomacy.”

 

Liev expression is a marble of shock, shame, and confusion.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

He must know by now, how weak I have become.  He will attack Dolina after my death.  I can sense it.

 

Viktor pushes the sword into Liev other hand.  Startled, Liev takes it.  They hold it between them.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D)

Promise me you will not let him do it.  Be strong, Liev.  By now, he is weak.  You are my only hope.  You must do this for me.  And —  (a painful pause)  — if Irina still lives…

 

LIEV

I’ll do whatever I can.

 

VIKTOR

(intensely) Promise me.

 

LIEV

I won’t fail you father.

 

VIKTOR

You are my son.  I know you will not fail me.

 

Nikolai bows his head.  Liev drops the sword and reaches for Viktor, who seizes his wrist.

 

VIKTOR (CONT’D) 

But promise me.

 

SASHA

(as a gasp) Liev…

 

She steps forward.  Sonya catches her arm, shakes her head.

LIEV

(in pain) Yes, father.  I promise.

 

Viktor stares at him, then shudders, falls back, and lies still.

 

LIEV

Father…

 

Viktor is dead.

 


Notes:

  1. Fun fact:  When writing a screenplay, use (ND) if you have a CHARACTER who has no dialogue, and of course the mention of the name should still be in ALL CAPS.  This helps when listing out faces for casting.
  2. The assimilation of early Russia into the Eastern Orthodox Church was mostly a political decision, with Moscow once being called “The Third Rome” as a result.  From what I understand of before that, the population’s religious practices were often heterogenous from one region to the next.
  3. Intriguingly enough, there seems to be similarities between the proto-Russian regard for ancestors and some Shinto practices of Japan.
  4. The idea of giving one’s word would, in almost any culture, especially before witnesses, be a binding promise.

Questions:

  1. Believable? Inconceivable?
  2. Interesting? Yawn-inducing?
  3. Intriguing? Confusing?