11: Connections

Not quite there yet?  Here’s Chapter One.


EXT. TISHINA CASTLE. SAME TIME.

THE WALL

Galen reappears and sinks back against the stones.  He shuts his eyes, but has trouble concentrating.  He twists folds of his cloak in his fists, breathes, looks up at the high tower, then tries again.

 

GALEN

Hold on, my lady.

 

His half-closed eyes turn to blue as he watches…

 

EXT. SKOMOROKH. SAME TIME.

THE GLUMY CAMP

Blue flowers open nearby.

 

SASHA

(to herself) I’ve never played this all the way through.

 

Pavel winches again.  She finishes tuning. 

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

Veles, if you’re with me, please help.

 

She shuts her eyes and plays Sonya’s song.  As she plays…

…the Stone shines.  Eyes blink out of the wood, curious.

…dew gathers, sparkles, turns to mist.  The eyes watch it, shivering.

red light goes white and all color drains to gray, the fire turns snow white.  

Sasha plays on, eyes closed.

The fog tightens into people, vague, childlike, curious, and the watching eyes widen, shrink, and draw back, bow in reverence

— as VELES (ND) rises from the mist.

His dew-damp coat is sheepskin wool.  He carries a harp and spear.  He is manlike, but double-crowned with cattle and goat horns.  Coiled around his spear, asleep, is a small white serpent with folded, feathered wings.

 

Note: The last chord of the song lingers throughout.

 

Sasha opens her eyes, looks up, stares shocked.

 

SASHA

(a breath) Veles?

 

He bows to her, then gestures to a spirit that steps forward and gains clarity:  LIZA (YELIZABETA) ILMENOVA, 40s, the woman from the Ilmenov family portrait.

She looks from Veles to Sasha, then Pavel.  Recognition.  She kneels and touches his forehead, then the marks.  The deliberate touches remove the poison.

LIZA

(maternal) Too soon, Pavlik

 

Finished, she kisses Pavel’s forehead and looks up.  She smiles at Sasha.

 

LIZA (CONT’D)

Thank you.

 

She stands and bows to Veles, steps back into the haze.  The god nods to Sasha.  The figures all turn to fog… mist… dew… then nothing.

The lingering note fades.  The Stone goes red, dims, and color washes back.

Pavel stirs in his sleep, moans, sits up, falls back, exhausted.

 

PAVEL

(disoriented) What happened?

 

Sasha quickly wraps her harp, looks around.  She quickly pulls out the Ace of Hearts.

A wooden groan.  A path opens up on one side of the clearing.  She sets down the card.

 

SASHA

I have to go.

 

PAVEL

Wait, who are you?

 

SASHA

A friend.  Gleb?

 

As she walks away, the Glumy men slink and tumble out of the forest.  Gleb follows her.

 

GLEB

So soon, harper?

 

SASHA

Take care of him, won’t you?

 

Pavel blinks, picks up the card, puzzled.

 

PAVEL

(weakly) Wait, who are you?  Where’s the king?

 

SASHA

I’ll be back!

 

She ducks into the forest.  The trees groan shut.

 

PAVEL

For a minute there…

 

He shakes his head

 

PAVEL

It couldn’t be.

 

EXT. / INT.  DOLINA CASTLE. NIGHT.

THE COURTYARD

Swordsmen grunt and clang through drills by firelight.

Sonya crosses the courtyard with a basket.  A servant lights torches by the gates. 

Nikolai watches from a high window.

THE WORKSHOP

The fire’s low.  Sonya enters from the back door, squints, shivers…

…watches her breath fog.

Worried, she hurries toward the hearth.  Wood scrapes, she stiffens. A log falls on embers and sparks scatter.

Nikolai minds a poker.

 

NIKOLAI

It’s cold for spring, isn’t it?

 

Sonya sets down her basket.  She doffs her cloak heatedly.

 

SONYA

Where have you been, old man?

 

He leans on the poker like a cane.

 

NIKOLAI

I’ve been very busy, Sonya.

 

SONYA

So I hear…

 

Kettle, cup, tea.

 

SONYA

Drink up.  You’re not as young as you used to be…

 

NIKOLAI

There are younger men to look after what matters.

 

SONYA

Yet I’m the only one who looks after your health.

 

NIKOLAI

Nonsense, I’ve never felt better.

 

She snatches his hand, checks his nails, frowns.

 

SONYA

You’re cold…

 

He snatches it back.

 

NIKOLAI

It’s amazing what a man gains from clarity of mind.

 

SONYA

If you want to call it that.  Something’s gotten into you.

 

She chops vegetables.  He sips tea.

 

NIKOLAI

How’s the princess?

 

SONYA

The body and soul each have their own afflictions.

 

Nikolai pours himself a second cup, stands and leaves it.

 

NIKOLAI

(inspecting jars) Last week, it was a headache.

 

SONYA

So it was.

 

NIKOLAI

And a few days ago, the servants mentioned a cold?

 

SONYA

You’re diligent, as always, Nikolai.  Viktor never appreciated it.

 

Nikolai pulls a full jar of mustard seed from the shelf.  Sonya hears the seeds ping and her knife slows.

 

NIKOLAI

For colds…   You usually use mustard powder for that kind of thing, don’t you?

 

The knife stops.

 

NIKOLAI

I remember, that winter Pavel was sick.

 

Sonya waits.

 

NIKOLAI

Everyone complained about the smell.

 

SONYA

They did.

 

He puts the jar back, then he turns to walk pass her —

— snatches the pouch off her belt.

 

SONYA

Nikolai!

 

She follows.  He takes out the key and tosses the rest back at her.

 

NIKOLAI

I know harper’s calluses when I see them, Sonya.  I’ve already sent a dozen knights to look for her.

 

He unlocks the drawer, pulls it open.

Sonya’s harp is there.  He glares.  Sonya opens a hand and pretends not to notice.

 

SONYA

Are you finished taking my things?

 

Nikolai almost returns the key…

…and sees an empty space in the drawer.

 

NIKOLAI

She’s in disguise.

 

SONYA

You gave us no choice.

 

NIKOLAI

I don’t tolerate liars, Sonya.  I guess war proves us all.

 

A crackle.  Sonya turns and looks at the black-veiled mirror, snatches the veil off.

The glass is frosting over.

 

SONYA

(frightened) Nikolai…?

 

NIKOLAI

I do wonder what part the princess plays in all this treachery.

 

SONYA

(turning back) What has happened to you?

 

NIKOLAI

No matter.  I’ll find out eventually.

 

He beats a fist on the door.

 

NIKOLAI

This will be the last time you trick us.

 

Both kitchen doors creak open.  GUARDSMEN enter, one with a torch.

 

NIKOLAI

(to them) Lock up this sorceress.  She’s been aiding our enemies as a spy.

 

SONYA

(stern) You’d lock up an old woman?

 

They hesitate.

 

NIKOLAI

We’d lock up any traitor to King Viktor.

 

Angrily, Sonya brings her hand down on her harp.  A deliberate discord, and the hearthfire and torch go out.

In the near dark she glares.

 

SONYA

No man should be ruled by a dead king.

 

NIKOLAI

What have you done?

 

SONYA

“As is the king, so is the kingdom.”

 

He slams the drawer and the mirror cracks.  They all flinch.

 

NIKOLAI

(to the guards) Take her away.

 

They head out the back door…

 

SONYA

Nikolai, you’re a better man than him.  Don’t…

 

…and leave.

OUTSIDE

 Every light in the castle has gone out.

THE WORKSHOP

Nikolai stands in the near-dark.  Winces.  His chest again.  He shivers.

Viktor’s hand is on his back.

 

VIKTOR

Don’t let her twist your thoughts, Kolya.  It’s a witch’s way.

 

NIKOLAI

You really think she’s betrayed us?

 

He walks back to the table and picks up the teacup.  Viktor melts back into his shadow.

 

VIKTOR (V.O.)

Sorcery, magic, it’s all the same in the end, unless you believe in gods.

 

Nikolai puts the cup down, and leaves it.

 

 


Questions of the Week:

  1. Coming down towards the end, do the stakes feel high enough?
  2. Is the magic/sorcery dynamic of this world explained well enough? Should anything be added sooner?
  3. Scene transitions.  How are they feeling?  Natural?  Jarring?

Notes for the Week

  1. I did some YouTube browsing when I first learned about gusliars.  If you’d like a soundtrack while you read, feel free to visit any of the links below.  The last two are from an album called Six Days of Spring, I’m not sure about the first.
  2. Facts about Veles in mythology: In the oldest Slavic texts, The Vedas, Veles (or Volos) is a trickster from the watery underworld who steals cattle (or in some versions a wife) from Perun, his rival in the sky.   Their battles create the rain.  Veles is a shapeshifter and generally likes humans.  He’s modeled as a forest dweller, a shepherd, or a herdsman, and carries a spear and a harp.  As the culture was Christianized, Perun became “Ivan” the Baptist and Veles became St. Basil.  One interesting thing to note is that while European forest deities have wild horns like antlers, Veles has a crown made from livestock horns.  The myths around him depend largely on region, some making him the chief creator god and others a simple forest keeper.  The words veles or volos are likely derived from the word “woolly,” because of his clothes.
  3. Facts about Veles in this story:  I read a number of online sources, among them this one and this one, as I was studying both old and new Slavic mythology.  Since I had to choose one mythos to develop in this story, Veles made the cut as “god of souls,” not only for his association with harpers and the underworld, but also for his shepherdlike qualities.  While in myths Veles isn’t always directly connected to death, the dew, mist and fog are associated with both him and souls.  The aspects I chose to focus when I had to choose on depended on what fit the story’s themes, so his portrayal here is far from complete.  Some aspects are invented solely for the purpose of this story.  For example, the snake is an allusion to his ability to shapeshift into animals, and the rule of magic vs. sorcery is my own invention as a way of contrasting different uses of power.

10: The Harper and the Sorcerer

Not sure what’s happening?  Here’s Chapter One.


EXT.  SKOMOROKH.  NIGHT.

FOREST INTERIOR

Startling quiet.

Sasha looks around.  Moonlight cuts the dark like bright needles sewing velvet.

 

SASHA

I’m here.

 

A few blue flowers open.  She sets out down…

A PATH

Sasha fumbles in the dark, at times on hands and knees, up…

A HOLLOWS, A SLOPE

Now and then, sifting sounds.  At times, distant lights from…

A COPSE, A SMALL GLADE

Rustling.  Sasha looks back.  A darker shadows slips between trees behind her.  She presses on to…

A BEND BY WILLOWS

She trips on the roots.  A rattle of thorns, and something small and white gleams in a ditch:  She plucks it from a thorn: the Ace of Hearts.

 

SASHA

(whisper) Pavel?

 

Rustling again.  She bristles.

 

SASHA

All right, if you want a harper to help Lady Irina, you can stop being so shifty about it!

 

A lantern light springs up in a tree.  Sasha yelps at the sight of a wolf’s mask.  

A dozen more wild beasts appear all around — masks.  Sasha cowers back, but voices laugh, all mischief.  It’s Gleb and his Glumy Men — though not all are men.

 

GLEB

You’ve missed the news, harper.  Our people are at war with a dead man.

 

The lights wink out and on, and the masks have all changed place.

 

SASHA

I might be on your side then.

 

GLEB

But who are you?

 

Sasha hesitates.  A woman, KATIYA, 18, calls from another tree.

 

KATIYA

He doesn’t know, Gleb!

 

They all laugh as Gleb drops from the tree.

 

SASHA

Are you thieves?  I have no gold.

 

More laughter.  The masks change again and again as the TROUPE speaks.

 

GLEB

We can mock thieves if you like…

 

TROUPE #1

…or scoundrels even…

 

KATIYA

…or damsels…

 

TROUPE #2

… or heroes…

 

TROUPE #3

…or beasts…

 

GLEB

…so long as it gets a laugh.

 

SASHA

(realizing) You mean that you’re clowns?

 

Patronizing applause.

 

GLEB

Clowns, tumblers, actors.  Very good, harper.  I’m called Gleb, and these are my Glumy men…

 

KATIYA

And maid.

 

GLEB

…and maid, while she is ours.

 

Teasing whistles.

 

GLEB

We are whatever will entertain, but what else might you be, harper?

 

SASHA

(seeking faces) I’m… what’s it matter?

 

KATIYA

Even an actor knows who he is once a day…

 

Laughter.

 

GLEB

We’ll let Galen decide.

 

SASHA

Wait, who?

 

GLEB

Lights off and let’s be off!

 

The lights go out.

 

CURVING PATHS

Whoops and hollers in the dark as Gleb and his men herd Sasha blindly through the wood and into…

THE GLUMY CAMP

Starlit:  A clearing, surrounded by tents and tree fortresses.  It seems empty, but for a bonfire pit with wood, unlit.

The disembodied laughter fades as Sasha staggers to a stop.

 

SASHA

Hello?  Gleb?

 

Nearby, a painful gasp.  Sasha looks.  By the firewood, a man lies on a pallet, shivering in his sleep.  She approaches cautiously, sees

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

Pavel?  My goodness… Pavel!

 

He tosses, sweating in his sleep.  She checks for fever, sees strange purple marks.

A pulse of red.  She pulls out the Stone, looks at it.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

(softly) I don’t understand, what do you want me to do?

 

Galen’s behind her.

 

GALEN

You know this man, harper?

 

Standing she turns, holding the Stone.  Its light dims.

 

SASHA

(warily) Who are you, sir?

 

GALEN

You’re in my forest; I could ask you the same question.

 

SASHA

I’m called Siny, sir.

 

GALEN

And sometimes, I’m called “sorcerer,” but that’s only a word — at the moment.

 

SASHA

Are you the man who keeps this forest for the Silent King?

 

GALEN

(puzzled) That is not the rumor in Dolina.

 

SASHA

Another harper told me of you.

 

Galen hopes, checks it.

 

GALEN

He told you we have your king then?

 

SASHA

That’s why I’m here.

 

Mutual suspicion.

 

GALEN

But who sent you?

 

Sasha swallows a little.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

(warning) I’ve dealt with liars from Dolina before…

 

SASHA

I’m not lying.

 

GALEN

Your kingdom declares war on us, then sends a harper.  Do you expect me to believe…?

 

SASHA

No one sent me but myself.

 

They study each other again.

 

SASHA

How old are you?

 

GALEN

Much older, and stronger, than the last time Dolina invaded.

 

The forest rattles ominously with thorns.

 

SASHA

(remembering) But the last time King Viktor was here was thirty years ago.

 

GALEN

I remember.

 

Galen holds up his tattooed arm.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

It’s quite impossible to forget the day my father was murdered.

 

Sasha’s stunned again.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

He passed the forest onto me just before Viktor stabbed him in the back.  I won’t be fooled again.

 

SASHA

You must have been only a child.

 

GALEN

“Sorcerer” is now more than a word, isn’t it?

 

Sasha is angry, then pities him.

SASHA

I promise, I’m here to help.

 

GALEN

I could turn you to ash in an instant if you’re lying.

 

SASHA

But you don’t want to.  (a beat) Otherwise you would have attacked Dolina long ago.

 

Galen is startled, then bitter.  He composes himself.  At a gesture, the fire leaps up.  Sasha gasps as she sees Pavel’s wounds more clearly.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

A test is in order then.

 

SASHA

What have you done to him?

 

Thorns by the glade clatter.

 

GALEN

I’ve done nothing.  The poor fool fell into a nest of snake nettles, one of the curses my father sewed into this forest.

 

Sasha winces as she studies the swollen wounds.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

It took Gleb almost a week to find him for me, greedy things.

 

SASHA

You could have brought him back to Dolina…

 

GALEN

(coldly) Why?  Only two things can undo curses:  A god or the sorcerer’s kin.

 

SASHA

So you want me to cure him?

 

GALEN

If you know the song to lift my lady’s curse, you can lift this one.

 

She holds the Stone again.

 

SASHA

Does this have something to do with Veles?

 

GALEN

A soul hangs in the balance.  I would think that’s obvious.

 

He turns away.

 

GALEN (CONT’D)

Your question gives me little reason to trust you.

 

SASHA

I can do it.  How will I find you?

 

GALEN

I’ll still be watching.

 

He vanishes.

 

SASHA

Wait!

 

The fire snaps.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

Were you just going to let him die?  Your mother would be ashamed of you!

 

PAVEL

(feverish) Who are you?

 

Sasha hurriedly kneels, unwraps her harp.

 

SASHA

A friend.

 

She calms herself.  She tunes it a moment and he squints, confused.

 

SASHA (CONT’D)

It’ll be all right.  Just hold on.


Notes of the Week:

  1. As creepy as the word “Skomorokh” sounds, it actually refers to a band of Russian clowns, as does the term “Glumy men,” who were similar to jesters.  They tended to be anti-institutional or at the very least satirical, considering themselves outside the law.
  2. The idea that only a “fool” would enter Skomorokh is a pun on this idea.  Gleb and his clowns favor Ivan, but will happily help anyone, granted, only after giving them a hard time.