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THE CUNNING MAN by Wendy Wheeler WGAw #1902082 (c) 2017 Wendy Wheeler

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Page 1: THE CUNNING MAN by Wendy Wheeler - StoryPros


Wendy Wheeler

WGAw #1902082 (c) 2017 Wendy Wheeler

Page 2: THE CUNNING MAN by Wendy Wheeler - StoryPros




A large bonfire illuminates a crowd of COLONIAL-ERA FAMILIES,working class folk mixing with well-to-do. They holdlanterns, proudly watch an on-going ceremony.

SEVEN STUDENTS, young men and women, preen as theirinstructor, ANDERS MICKELWHITE (30), a slight, scholarlyman, hands each one a dowsing rod, speaks so all can hear.

ANDERS...Healing, scrying, dowsing. Charmsfor love and for luck. I've taughtyou what I can. I greet you, mystudents, as new Cunning Folk.

The final student, SERENA RICE (18), tall, tomboyish, dressedplainly with beautiful long hair, gives Anders a look ofheartfelt admiration. He hesitates, his face fond as well.


Your dear mother and family, Serena?

A wagon rumbles up. The RICE FAMILY piles out -- parentsplus five rowdy children in mended clothes. Serena's mother(42), a distracted, sweet-voiced woman, calls out.

GOODY RICEYour brothers may be missing a buckleor two, Serena child, but here weare! Here we are!

Serena sighs. Anders holds up the final dowsing rod, whitewood with a silver metal plug at the bottom. His loud voiceis especially proud.

ANDERSFor the most gifted student of whitemagic I've seen. This special hazelwood dowsing rod, hollowed out andfilled with a quicksilver core.

He presents it to Serena. Her family cheers; the crowd joinsin. Anders starts to speak privately to Serena, but nervouslychokes. MARIAH (20), pregnant and well dressed, calls.

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MARIAHMaster Mickelwhite! Since we're allhere, won't you grace us with a showof the magical arts?

The crowd cheers louder. Anders pretends surprise, thengestures at the bonfire. It glows brighter, a big ball ofyellow erupting from the center.

ANDERSAs an alchemist, my goal is to uncoverthe foundations of the cosmos.

He gestures again. The fireball grows a horned head, a snakyneck, unfurls mighty wings.

ANDERSThe dragon. A symbol of thealchemist's questing mind.

The dragon launches up from the bonfire. The crowd AHHHs. The dragon swoops down around the families making wind butno heat. The crowd OHHHs. The dragon dives back into thebonfire with a shower of sparks. The crowd cheers.

GOODY RICESurely Boston has the best CunningMan in all of the Colonies!


Families feast and drink around the bonfire. Students admiretheir new dowsing rods. Anders doesn't notice the manyfawning looks as he searches the crowd.

ANDERSSerena! Um, Miss Rice! A word?

From her family's blanket, Serena calmly rises and separatestwo rowdy brothers.

SERENACare to see a double hex, boys? No?

(smiles)The hazel rod is beautiful, MasterMickelwhite.

She follows him to a quieter spot.

ANDERSPlease call me Anders.

Serena smiles delightfully, sending Anders into a nervousfit.

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ANDERSI--I myself still treasure themagicked spyglass my master gave me. You and I Serena seem to be... Youappear... That is, we...

He takes refuge in a lecturing tone.

ANDERSMy work as you may know demands abalance of the male and femaleprinciples. As a single man...

SERENAYou need the Alchemical Queen, your Soror Mystica. Oh! Are you askingmy aid for your experiments?

He takes her hands in his. The whole crowd notices.

ANDERSI'm asking for another, happierpartnership, Serena. Your youthfulgrace to offset my rough male self. Can you even consider it?

Serena lets her adoring gaze answer for her.


A shabby but large home with a big table loaded for a weddingfeast.

The Rice family and a few FRIENDS observe as a JUSTICE OFTHE PEACE marries Serena and Anders. Anders looks formal inhis suit coat. Serena wears a lovely, simple dress of blue,her hair up and womanly. They are almost the same height.

The Justice nods to them. Serena and Anders exchange weddingthimbles. Serena looks radiant.


A mud-chinked log cabin, a tiny, tidy bedroom. The windowhas oiled paper panes that moonlight glows through.

Anders combs Serena's hair; they both wear night clothes. She concentrates on four things before her: a lit candle, arock, a pitcher, and a feather. Anders' pop quiz for her.

SERENAThe relationship of these objects?

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ANDERSYes, Serena. From one of your firstlessons. Four things...?

SERENAFour! Then the candle is part ofthe test? So. Fire.

(sloshes the pitcher)Water.

(touches the stone)Earth.

(fans the feather)Air.

ANDERSBrilliant! The four elements, thefoundation of alchemy.

He breathes in the fragrance of her hair. Serena watches inthe mirror hopefully, but he recollects himself.

ANDERSWhat is the term for primeval matter,the first substance from the beginningof the world? From the Greek...?

SERENAAll four elements in their combinedstate? That is called: Chaos.

She's right. Anders is pleased.

SERENAChaos, imagine! As odd and unlikelyas the Philosopher's Stone.

ANDERS(truly shocked)

Serena! If there is one thing youmust accept, it's the Philosopher'sStone. It is the goal of alchemy!

SERENAOne substance that can cure all ills? Turn all metals into gold?

ANDERSHealing a metal, my dear, returns itto gold, back to its purest state.

SERENACannot alchemy and practicality worktogether? Had we enough "healedmetal," we could have glass in ourwindows like Mariah.

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ANDERSOnly those free of vice, of greed,can find the Philosopher's Stone. Imust be above ...practicality.

He pulls her to her feet, leads her to the bed. He shineswith passion for his work and for her.

ANDERSMy Alchemical Queen. Tomorrow I'llshow you something to cure yourskepticism.

SERENAOh Anders, this is not a marriage asmy parents have, but I do love you.

Serena passes through the filtered moonlight, shivers.

SERENAEh! A chill! Someone somewhere isdoing a mischief.

ANDERSCome into bed where it's warmer.

He gestures gently. A MUSICAL BREEZE puffs out all thecandles. Only the moon glows round behind the paper panes.


The same moon shines on rolling bluffs, sparse bushes andscrub trees alongside a river inlet. Further off the mightyDelaware River splashes past. Birds hoot, crickets call.

From O.S. a clank of metal, huffs of breath. A glow buildsfrom behind a bluff, turns into a glare of lantern light.

THREE PIRATES (MARKHAM, CHURCHER, and BROWN) crest the hilland stand in silhouette. They wear large hats over longlank hair, cutlasses, high boots with buckles.

One pirate, Seth Markham (38) holds a map to the light. Jerks his head -- "that way." The pirates exit O.S.

Following them silently, a fourth TALL MAN (KING JAMES),laden down with satchels and shovels, crests the bluff. Hetoo exits O.S. He seems to see oddly well without light.


The three ratty pirates stand in a ring of lantern light,scowl at a shovel stabbed into the ground. Empty satchelsand another shovel lie nearby.

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Sensitive Freddy Churcher (34) shivers like a rabbit. CalebBrown (38) has a bully's air and mass of frizzy hair. SlySeth Markham holds the map, however. Markham and Brown watcheach other like mongrels in a dog pit.

BROWN(to Markham)

--Just tell us where lies the ironpot of pistoles, ye poxy fool.

Markham holds up the map coyly.

MARKHAMAye, here's the note made in my ownfine hand. Shall you like to readit, then, Caleb?

Churcher misses all the undercurrent and insult.

CHURCHEROh! Caleb can't read--

BROWN(to Markham)

--Ain't you smart as paint? Heaveto, Seth! I'm the one what PeggityHank made his second mate.

MARKHAMThe more fool he. Well, the tree Idrew here is not the one we see.

Markham nods toward a tree O.S.


A single gnarled TREE sits in a circular clearing surroundedby small white pebble-like things that reflect moonglow. Two upflung branches look like arms. Two holes in the barklook like eyes, a hole beneath them like a wailing mouth.

MARKHAM (O.S.)But according to the compass marks Imade, this be the spot.

Churcher creeps toward the tree holding out his lantern. The jumping light suddenly brings out the tree's face.Churcher yelps and skitters back.

CHURCHERThere's a demon thing a-watching us!

BROWNBah! Ye're as scared as any woman,Freddy! 'Tis just a tree.

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Brown puts a shovel in Churcher's hand.

BROWNStart digging, boys.

Markham angrily tucks the map away, starts to dig. Suddenlyhe grabs Churcher's shovel and stops him.

MARKHAMWait! And we go reclaiming thistreasure, but what about the voodoocurse? That thing's liable to flyback on us!

CHURCHERBlast us! We don't need more badluck. Get your West Indie MedicineMan on the job, Caleb!

He throws his shovel from him, stumbles.

BROWNAh, get yer lubbers' legs on ya,Freddy. Jimbo is already out theresetting up his candles andnecessaries.

(calls out)King James! You made the way safefor us, you heathen?

From the dark comes a deep voice with West Indian accent.

KING JAMES (O.S.)I doin' my part, Master Caleb.

CHURCHERFair gives me the shivers. How canhe see in the dark?

KING JAMES (O.S.)Got me cats-eye stone, good magicfor the night.

Caleb Brown shoves his two pirate mates at their shovels.



The pirates, hats and coats cast aside, scoop dirt in a holethree feet deep. Churcher keeps checking the gnarled tree.

The tree watches back.

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BROWNIt's the blackest of black luck toleave without your treasure, boys.

MARKHAMIt'll be here. You make your ownluck, Caleb. Peggity Hank learnedus that one.

CHURCHERAnd what of his luck? Captured, andhung to dry on Execution Dock. Ourship gone, and where's another to behad with just half a crew to takeit?

Churcher cries out, points at the tree.

CHURCHERIt's moving!

Brown holds out his lantern where Churcher points.

BROWNJust the wind.

CHURCHERIt's not windy. H--Have your MedicineMan set a magic fire on it.

KING JAMES (O.S.)I can't be burning that there tree,Master Freddy. It got a demon spiritinside it. It got a Duppy.

BROWNDid I tell you to burn it, youBlackbird?

The tree waves its upflung branches.

CHURCHEREeeeeee! The evil thing is dancinglike Saint Vitus hisself!

A RIPPLE under the dirt plows from the tree to the pirates.

Churcher and Brown scramble out. Markham remains.

MARKHAMAin't no such tree what dances--

BROWNOut, Seth, out! A-fore it gets you!

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The ground heaves. Brown tugs Markham. A ROPY ARM reachesout of the dirt and clamps Markham's ankle. Markham SCREAMS. Brown yanks Markham free, but the boot remains.

MARKHAMMy gold buckles!

BROWNGo! Go! Go!

The three pirates run O.S. King James flits behind them


The three pirates tear madly across the bluffs, the lonelantern bouncing in Churcher's grip.


Back at the abandoned hole, holding Markham's boot, sits theDUPPY, a hairless, bulging-eyed creature about four feettall. It is thin except for a big abdomen. Its hands andfeet are large and clawed.

DUPPY(archaic accent)

Oh children! Them men can certainlyshow a clean pair of heels!

It pulls off the gold buckle, tosses it into its large, tooth-lined mouth, crunches.

DUPPYCome them back, we'll have a rightfeast now, won't we.


The pirates stop to breathe, watching behind them. KingJames catches up.

CHURCHERI knew this would happen! Atreasure's no good if'n you can'tclaim it back!

(to Brown)Make your Magic Man fix it!

KING JAMES (O.S.)Not my magic. Can't do nothing witha Duppy 'less you know his spiritancestors.

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BROWNWell, Seth. Ye're the fella whathad the sharp idear of putting acurse on! Protect the duff, yousaid! What now?

Pressed, rattled, Markham has a brainstorm.

MARKHAMWhy, we need us some cunning magicsto control the situation.

CHURCHERA Cunning Man? How, how will we payhim?

Markham and Brown wave him off. Brown leers agreement atMarkham.



Early morning. Serena twists her hair up, ties it, covers itwith a cap. Anders pulls on his shoes, stands, leans overfor a kiss.

Just then, a tiny light POPS into existence next to Anders'ear. ORPHI was once a firefly but has been magicked into afamiliar spirit.

Anders and Serena both jump at the sudden urgent WHINE.

SERENA Something's calling you.

ANDERSCan you hear that? The sound of asylph is rarely noticed by theuntrained ear.

SERENAThis untrained ear is fairly ringingwith it.

Orphi buzzes insistently.

ANDERSYes, yes, Orphi. That's easily fixed.

Anders, kiss forgotten, exits. Orphi bobs along behind.

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Only a few pieces of furniture near the fireplace and cookinghearth. At the other end of the room on a crowded worktable, Anders' alchemical paraphernalia bubbles away, books layopen.

Anders ambles to the table, picks up a shiny SPYGLASS,polishes it as he checks his experiments.


Serena feeds the chickens scratching around the doorstep. The tiny Mickelwhite cottage stands in a clearing with bedsof herbs and vegetables, a small barn, a stack of firewood.


The three pirates walk the cobbled streets of Boston dressedin plain merchantmen clothes. Their unpowdered hair is cutand tied back. Their shoes, however, still have big bucklesand tall heels.

They stop TOWNSPEOPLE to inquire about something. The peoplenod and point.


Mariah, now a young mother with a tired look, walks the longpath to the Mickelwhite cottage. She carries a SQUALLINGBABY in one arm and a basket on the other.


Serena sees Mariah, puts away her broom.

SERENAHow do, Mariah. The young squireseems a bit peckish this morning.

MARIAHOh aye. It's his colic again. Ineed a bit more of Anders' philter.

Serena strokes the baby's ear. The baby quiets. Mariahhands him over gratefully.

MARIAHDo you still steal away to see theships in the harbor?

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Serena shakes her head, cuddles the baby.

SERENAThere's so much to do when it's yourhome and your hearth. Did you haveany concept?

MARIAHBut you found a husband. We thoughtyou were bound for the frontier tofight red Indians.

Serena, wistful, hands the baby back.

SERENAGo ahead in. I'll carry your basket.

MARIAHOh, that's for you. There's littlemoney for medicines, but I had abushel of those about the house. And I thought, why, Serena couldmake a fine jam for Anders.

Mariah and baby exit. Serena looks into the basket.




WIDOW MANLEY (46) a prim, sharp-eyed gossip, works in hersmall front garden on a busy Boston street.

The three disguised pirates walk up.

MARKHAMPardon, Missus. Is this the way toMaster Mickelwhite's?

WIDOW MANLEYCome in off a ship, did you then?

The men nod.

WIDOW MANLEYAnd you're seeking the best CunningMan in Boston town?

CHURCHERThat's Master Mickelwhite?

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WIDOW MANLEYAye, the best man for finding what'smissing, maker of amulets, removerof curses--

MARKHAM(to his cohorts)

Removes curses.(to Widow Manley)

We come to make him a fine offer.

WIDOW MANLEYOffer away. A more unwordly man forbusiness you'll not meet. His poorwife has such a challenge with him--

The pirates trade looks. Caleb Brown points abruptly.

BROWN--This be the road then?


Aye. Afar out of town, though.


Serena carries firewood to the hearth, looks to see if Andersnotices. He's oblivious. She drops it and exits.

Serena enters again with more firewood. She drops this load. Anders finally looks up.



ANDERSWill you care to come observe as Ifilter this retort?

SERENAWell, if we have a lesson now, thenbreakfast comes even later. Whichshall it be?

Anders looks hungry. She has her answer, and it's what sheexpected. On her way back out, Serena pauses.

SERENALast night, I may have spoken toostrongly. But Anders, won't you...?

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ANDERSAh. Be more practical. I shallendeavor to do so.

SERENAAnd I shall endeavor to get breakfast.

Serena exits again.

Anders picks up a jug, upturns it. Empty. Across the roomsits a large pottery cistern. Anders mouths words, circleshis finger to the sound of magical MUSIC.

The lid on the cistern raises up and hangs in mid-air. Aspout of water spins up from the cistern like a charmed snake,arcs across the room to fill Anders' jug. The cistern lidplops back down.

Serena enters, picks up a ladle, opens the cistern. Of courseit's empty. She shoulders a large bucket, exits.


Serena enters with the heavy bucket full, lugs it to thecistern.

Anders looks up from his notes. Helpfully he makes theswirling motion with his finger. Magical MUSIC. The lid ofthe cistern raises.

Serena hoists the heavy bucket; it slips and water drenchesher, washes across the floor.

SERENAOh, Husband!



Serena, in a different dress, hangs the wet one on a peg.

From O.S. comes muffled knocking. There's the sound of adoor opening, then men talk.


Serena enters. Anders sits in a chair studying a document.

The three pirates in their merchantmen garb watch his everymove. Brown is already deep into his phony story.

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BROWN--And as we're men of peace, with agood proposition in hand, GoodmanMickelwhite, here we are to parleywith ye.

Brown notices Serena. He leers.

BROWNOh, pardon, Missus.

The other pirates look up sharply at Serena. Markham shovesBrown to remind him of manners.

ANDERSAh, gentlemen. My wife, SerenaMickelwhite. My beautiful SororMystica.


SERENAIt's an alchemical term for the femaleassistant. Anders' work demands abalance of the male and female.

ANDERSSerena, this is Master Brown. Aretired seaman, he says. And hereare his partners, Frederick Churcherand--?

MARKHAMMarkham. And very pleased to meetyou, Goody Mickelwhite.

ANDERSThey've showed me this charter. It's from the King, they tell me--

BROWN--It is!

MARKHAM--Sometimes I have to help my oldmate Caleb. He does the best he canwith the schooling he's had, whichisn't much.

Brown puffs up in anger, to Markham's delight.

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MARKHAM(to Anders)

That there charter is to scavengefor buried treasure. It's signed byKing Willie himself, all nice andlegal like.

SERENABuried treasure?

Anders shows little interest, but Serena's eyes gleam.

ANDERSAllowing for the king's right to one-fifth of any valuables found whenreclaiming this so-called treasure.

BROWNIt’s needing a dowser we are, Missus. We’ve had it confirmed that PeggityHank Barlo’s bunch buried an ironpot filled with gold bullion andSpanish pistoles in a certain inletalong the Delaware.

SERENABarlo? That dreadful pirate theyfinally hanged?

BROWNAye, terrible dreadful they say hewas. And his crew with him.

CHURCHERThe witches of these parts aren'table to cross running water. Weheard your husband was the bestCunning Man along the coast--

SERENA--And so he is.

CHURCHERSo we come to ask him to take a shortvoyage with us on the FortunateOsgood, docked just there in Bostonharbor. His dowsing can tell uswhere to dig.

SERENAThis is a paying voyage?

She's been hooked. The pirates shift their attention.

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BROWNWell, we was thinking. Maybe a smalldeposit now but then one-twentiethof whatever we find. And it lookscertain to make us wealthy men,Missus, that it does.

SERENAA safe and tidy ship? The only riskis whether you find the treasure ornot?

CHURCHERWell, there's some voo--

Markham elbow-punches him.

MARKHAM--Naught else to concern you. We'vefound a capital ship, and the dealwith the Captain is all but done.

Anders abruptly rolls up the parchment, hands it to Brown.

ANDERSNo, gentlemen. I’m sorry.

SERENA--Anders? Hear them out.

Anders stands, ushers the men to the door.

ANDERSOh, I've heard enough.

MARKHAMMaster Mickelwhite, think of thegold! A portion of it, all for youand your good woman.

ANDERSGold? Why, with a Philosopher'sStone, an alchemist may achieve allthe gold he wants.

The pirates goggle at him like he's crazy. Markham falls toone knee at the doorway.

MARKHAMSay you'll journey with us and useyour cunning ways. We've come along ways to find you, Sir.

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ANDERSOh, I have a goodly idea just howfar you gentlemen have traveled.

The pirates fidget, attempt to appear innocent.

ANDERSYou made the trip for naught, for Iwon’t be able to help you with thedowsing.


MARKHAMIt’s the payment, isn’t it? Oh, youdrive a hard bargain, MasterMickelwhite. One-tenth. And not abit more.

ANDERSI must say no. You're free to takeyour parchment from King Willie, asyou say, to another Cunning Man. Ihear there's one in Philadelphia.

BROWNMissus, make him understand that theriskier the trade, the sweeter thereward. Ye seem to understand theway of it...

Anders pushes the pirates out the door.

ANDERSNeither my wife nor myself haveanything more to consider. Don'tlet us keep you any further.


ANDERSGood day, gentlemen.

They stomp away. Anders closes the door.

SERENAAnders! And what did you promise mejust this morning?

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ANDERSIt isn't practical to deal with menof that sort. And if it were, I'mnot one for adventure as you wellknow.

He returns to his worktable, the matter over. But Serenaseethes.


Anders sits at a small, cleared area on his worktable. Platesare set for breakfast. Serena offers a steaming dish. Andersdigs in, happy. Serena waits a few bites...

SERENAThis morning? Those men? You wereso inhospitable. What care theyabout your philosophies?

Anders gestures to show it's all in the past.

ANDERSI mistrusted the feel of theirparchment.

SERENAThat makes no sense! They offeredtreasure!

ANDERSOur life is good as it is. A snughouse, food on the table, the respectof our town.

SERENABut if we had some money put away,we'd be more secure. Say, if thingschanged...

Serena rubs her belly, almost says more. Anders has his ownthought, jumps up.

ANDERSThe book! The complete and unabridgedissue of de Brahms sent me fromGermany! Serena, shall I show youthe Alchemical King and his Queen?

He grabs a heavy, ancient book lying open, holds it out.


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Line drawing of the smiling King and Queen of Alchemy, theirindex fingers almost touching. She stands on a globe. Hestands in a fire.

SERENASo there's the Soror Mystica.

ANDERSThe necessary balance of opposites. The meeting of the physical and theemotional. As you for me.

He leafs to another page.

ANDERSAnd this. The Latin is more arcanethan I’m used to, but this formulahere...

(reading)"Prepare thee three athanors--"


ANDERSA glass bottle. "--Three athanors. And then you generate in each acertain Earth by putting in them acup of Chaos."

SERENAThe primeval matter. Which no onehas ever seen.

ANDERSI have no idea where one finds suchmaterial. But once I've solved that,my quest for the Philosopher's Stoneis--

SERENA(touching the book)

How did you pay for this?

ANDERSThe silver from our cache.

SERENAYou spent our cache? Oh, Anders!

ANDERSWe shall make the money back easily.

Serena sinks to the ground in worry.

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SERENAI've tried to be a good wife, ahomemaker. I've trusted the husbandto provide security for the family.

ANDERSWith you doing dowsing too, we'llfund our cache twice as fast.

SERENAWith so much work, my mind is rarelymy own these days. Let alone timeto practice cunning skills. Ohhhh!


Serena enters, closes the door behind her. She bends down,lifts a loose floorboard, retrieves a small crock. It rattleswith only a few coins. She looks inside and mourns.


Serena wraps a pie, places it in a basket. Orphi buzzesover.

SERENAShoo! Go on, you silly bug! You'vethe same sweet tooth as my husband.

ANDERSOrphi is not really a firefly, Serena. Well, not any longer. He now embodiesa sylph of the air--

SERENAI'm on my way to visit Deborah forher laying-in.

(beat)Try to leave the rest of the beefsteakpasty until I return.

Anders nods, distracted. As Serena exits he looks around.

ANDERSYou're taking the cranberry pie?


Serena hikes the dirt path to town lugging the heavy basket.

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Cobbled streets, larger masonry homes in the town proper. Serena walks on. A FRIEND calls. Serena waves back.

The streets grow more crowded as she walks on. Lots of PEOPLEknow and greet her.


DEBBY HOLCOMB (22), hugely pregnant, sits like a duchess inan upholstered chair. Her large house is well furnished andfilled with female chatter. Many baskets and dishes standon the dining table; thread and fabric heap everywhere.

FOUR GIRLS attend Debby slavishly, including cheerful ABIGAILMANLEY (18), as yet unmarried and Serena's best friend.

Six OLDER WOMEN sit in a separate circle, sewing a rag rug. One is Goody Rice, Serena's mother. Another is Widow Manley,the mother of Abigail, who speaks to Serena's mother.

WIDOW MANLEYAnd where's your girl, then? Ihaven't seen Serena in over a week.

GOODY RICEI expect her directly.

WIDOW MANLEYWho thought she'd ever settle down like that? Always such a rompingmolly.

Goody Rice, preening, doesn't pick up on any implied slight.

GOODY RICEMarriage has made a woman of her. And still I tell her. Be softer,Serena. Stand you not so tall andspeak you not so loudly.

The chatting girls don't notice Debby faint back in her chair.


But in the street, Serena stops as if listening. Runs.

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Debby Holcomb moans, catching the attention of the girls. They shriek and flutter.

GOODY RICEWhat? Is it the vapors? Give hersome water!

The older women jump up, join the crowd around Debby.

ABIGAILDebby, you look a might white. Isyour belly all topsy-turvy, dear?

Serena slams into the room, panting, drops her basket. Shesees the agitated women. Her mother notices her.

GOODY RICEAh, here she is. My word, Girl! Must you be so rough?

WIDOW MANLEY(to Abigail)

Open her a vinaigrette there andhave her take a deep sniff. Thatcollects the spirits just wonderful.

Serena strides to Debby, feels her brow.

SERENAA vinaigrette will just make herstomach all the more sour.

Serena turns and hunts through things on the food table,comes back with a branch of thyme.

WIDOW MANLEYNo babies of her own yet, but sheknows best?

GOODY RICESerena is a wonder. She helped methrough birthing the five who cameafter her.

SERENADebby, Love, scratch your fingernailsacross this thyme. It has a scentmuch like lemons. See how nice?

Debby weakly scratches. Serena guides Debby's hand up.

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SERENAPut your fingers to your nose andbreath in, slow and deep.

Debby breaths in. Her eyes flutter open. Her color returns.

The young girls take over. No one has a thought for Serena'shealing insights, least of all Serena.

WIDOW MANLEYThyme, was it? Why that's clever.

Serena kisses her mother. Goody Rice tugs at the waistbandof Serena's dress.

GOODY RICEGirl of mine, why ever did you notwear your blue frock today? Thisone's seams have gone all crooked.

Embarrassed, Serena tries to cover.

SERENAOh, I did washing this morning and my other dresses weren't dry.


The women stitch a colorful rag rug, arranged in a circleround it. They nibble at plates of food.

WIDOW MANLEYEven with a servant--or two-- whenyou've got your house, and your garden--

WOMAN#1--And your fields, and your byre.

GOODY RICE--And your man to tend to, and foodto fix. Wifely duties keep yourhands full, but when you've got ababe as well--

SERENA--It's too much! Why must we womenhave it so hard?

The ladies gasp at her loud tone. Serena is abashed. WidowManley scoots near her.

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WIDOW MANLEYThose merchantmen have a job forAnders, did they?

SERENAAye. But he sent them packing. Notpractical, he said.

WIDOW MANLEYAnd them coming all this way! Is itwork that he's afraid of?


Mother! What she and Anders have isunlike marriage as the rest of usknow it. Serena is the womanlybalance for his white magics.

SERENAMaybe if I went down to the shipmyself, and asked the merchantmen tocome again--?

Goody Rice SHRIEKS in horror.

GOODY RICEOh, never! Never a woman goes downto those docks. Unless she isproperly escorted, and even then... Oh, that's a den of ruffians!

WIDOW MANLEY(just to Serena)

Being a good Cunning Man is not thesame as being a good husband.

Try as she might, Serena can't deny it.


Serena kisses friends and family good-bye, puts the now-lighter basket over her arm.


Serena walks back the way she came. A long walk down cobbledstreets. Past the edge of town.

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Serena hikes the path through the woods. Meanwhile, she'sthe subject of conversation back at the party.

ABIGAIL (V.O.)Oh, if Serena only had a horse. Iwager she'd visit more.

WIDOW MANLEY (V.O.)She wouldn't have to live so far outhad she married another man!

GOODY RICE (V.O.)Harriet!


Serena steps to the door of her home.

WIDOW MANLEY (V.O.)The town built him that house, forno one in their right mind wants hiskind next door.

From inside comes a crash of breaking glass.

ANDERS (O.S.)(muffled)


Serena throws open the door.

ABIGAIL (V.O.)Truly, Mother? Why?

Inside the cabin, something sparks. Then BOOM! The cabin'spaper windowpanes burst. The force of the explosion blowsoff Serena's cap. A tarry liquid splats onto her hair.

Finally, smoke flows leisurely out the door, covers her withsoot. Serena's eyes blink whitely in her blackened face.


Serena cleans soot, misses some on her chin. Anders cajolesfrom the other side of the bedroom door.

ANDERS (O.S.)'Twas a minor misjudgment in someparticulars is all.

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Serena tries to unbraid her hair. The tar has matted braidstogether.

ANDERS (O.S.)I've wiped the soot off all thefurniture. I'll oil more parchmentfor the windows today.


A side braid is a mess. Serena takes out scissors.

ANDERS (O.S.)Can I come in?


ANDERS (O.S.)May I perform some act of penitence?

Serena holds the scissors to the braid.

SERENAYes. Go find the merchantmen andtake them up on their proposition.

ANDERS (O.S.)Eh. I wouldn't go down to the docksjust for that.

Serena snips the braid, snips another.

SERENAWhat if they came back to talk?

ANDERS (O.S.)(a false promise)

Yes, if they came back I'd speakwith them, yes. I'll go clean myselfup at the barn cistern now, shall I?

His footsteps fade away. Serena unbuttons her sooty dress. She checks her one other dress. Still damp.

She yanks open the wardrobe, takes out a nightgown. No. She takes out her wedding dress. No. She pauses at otherclothes in the wardrobe.


Serena in Ander's clothes. She rolls the sleeves, belts thepants. She's tall and slim for a woman, so they fit.

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Serena picks up her hazelwood dowsing rod from the dresser,then sees herself in the small mirror.

Short hair falls around her face. Soot on her chin lookslike a beard coming in. Serena has a brainstorm. With asudden resolve, she picks up the scissors for the remainingbraids.


Taverns, warehouses and ship foundries squat over the landingsof Boston Wharf. Jolly boats bob beside the docks. SWABSand MERCHANTS scurry about. DOCK CAPTAINS call out orders.

A few large ships are docked. Several more anchor out inthe harbor, their sails at trim.


Serena, in men's clothes and cap, carrying a satchel, peersinto the dark door of a grog house. LOUD MEN talk within.

She blackens her fingers with soot from a lantern to retouchher beard. Swaggers into the tavern.


It's a mostly deserted seamen's bar, very dark. Only a fewmen drink this early in the afternoon and argue. The PUBLICAN(35) hurries by.

SERENAHere! Sir!!

The arguing men look up, suspicious of her high voice. Shecasts it lower.

SERENAI--I seek some passengers on theFortunate Osgood. Do you know whereit is?

The publican points out the door.

PUBLICANAye, the Osgood. That’s her, thelikely looking, square-masted, three-rigger. Old Isaiah, her bosun, canget you aboard.

Serena follows his gesture.

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SERENAAnd is Isaiah here?

She's made a joke. Hoots of laughter.

PUBLICANNay, Isaiah’d be the teetotaler buyingsupplies down at the dock. Not aman to sit and drink with us sinners,hey boys?

(to Serena)Look for the fiddlestick.

Serena nods and leaves as the drinkers shout at her.

ARGUING MAN #1 (O.S.)Could he turn our water into wine,we'd buy him a drink, eh?

ARGUING MAN #2 (O.S.)Careful he don't convert ye!


Cranes swing heavy loads through open warehouse doors. Overseers call out orders to the swabs, shirtless men withtarred pigtails who do the scut work.

Serena picks her away amongst sacks and rope, scrutinizingthe men. A grubby, big hand comes from O.S. and grabs her.

BILLYYou a-searchin' for someone, Sonny?

BILLY (50), an old swab, grins showing missing teeth.

SERENAI can find him, thanky.

BILLYLook at the sweet skin on ye. If'nit's a sea adventure you want, Ol'Billy can find ye a berth.

SERENAThanky, but I'm here seekingpassengers aboard the Osgood.

BILLYThe Osgood?

He backs away.

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BILLYSay nothing of me to Isaiah, there'sa good lad.

Nonplussed, Serena continues her search.

SERENAA fiddlestick. A fiddlestick--

A grizzled man with a pipe directs swabs on loading a largerowboat. ISAIAH (52) the Boatswain, turns to show an ornatecross stitched in gold on the back of his coat -- afiddlestick in seaman slang.

SERENAOh! Bosun! Hoy!

He turns, not much impressed with what he sees.


Serena makes herself look more manly.

SERENAI’ve got business with some aboardthe Fortunate Osgood. Can you getme on?

ISAIAHYou on the Osgood?

SERENAAye, that...

(quoting from memory)...likely looking, square-masted,three-rigger out there in the harbor.Are you her bosun?

Gunn appears mollified.

ISAIAHI’ll be going back in a quarter hour. You got business on the ship?

SERENAMaster Brown and his partners willbe glad to meet up with me, I reckon.

At the name, Isaiah spits, sour again.

ISAIAHOh, Brown. Wait then.

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Serena and Gunn settle into the shore boat piled withprovisions. Gunn begins to row. The boat jerks. Serenawobbles, falls back onto her seat.

ISAIAHLook sharp, lad. You ain’t a lubber,are ye? What’d you say your namewas?

SERENASam--Samuel, sir. Samuel Goldstone.

ISAIAHWell, Sammie, you’ll soon meet thefinest merchant ship on either sideof the Atlantic. Cap'n Buttons mansa trim ship, he does.

SERENACaptain Buttons?

ISAIAHCaptain John Baldridge, a good oldsalt, even if he does relish hisfancy dress a bit too much.

SERENAOh, and Brown and the others are inyour crew?

ISAIAHNay. Those sons of rum-puncheons! Three scoundrels is more like, themand their Blackbird. They've beenbartering with the Cap'n for passage.

Serena looks puzzled, but afraid to reveal more ignorance.


The Fortunate Osgood rolls stately in the harbor, a sturdyand trim sailing ship about 120 feet long. The shore boatpulls alongside. Gunn gestures for Serena to go up the ropeladder.

Serena slings her satchel to her back and stumbles up.

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A clean deck. Ropes are tied back neatly. A few SEAMENsmoke and talk.

Serena clambers over the edge, takes a stand on the deck. The rocking of the waves keep her unsteady.

From O.S., Gunn blows his bosun whistle. Swabs scramble tothrow ropes down to the jolly boat. Other swabs crank theboat up.

Gunn arrives on deck, loads then lights his pipe, bellowsthrough the puffs.

ISAIAHBrown! Master Brown! A lad aboardwants to parley!

Brown comes up from below deck with Churcher following. They still wear merchantmen clothing and do not recognizeSerena.

Serena steps forward, her hand out.

SERENASamuel Goldstone, sirrah. My sisteris Master Mickelwhite’s wife. Iheard you had need of a Cunning Man.

The merchantmen ignore her hand, trade skeptical glances.

BROWNAye, it’s a Cunning Man we need, nota cunning boy. How old are ye, lad?Thirteen? Fourteen?

CHURCHERCheck his whiskers, Caleb! If he’sover twelve, I’m a Dutchman!

SERENANo, you misunderstand. They've sentme here to ask that you return. Present your proposition once more.

BROWNAnd why would we do that? ThatGoodman Mickelwhite was a-ravin' atus like a thing possessed. We neversaw a bit of his magic. Likely he'sall hot work.

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The swabs and seamen slow down to listen and watch.

SERENANot at all! Why, he's the bestCunning Man on the coast! See thisfine thing?

She takes her dowsing rod from the satchel, holds it up.

SERENAHis handiwork. And he's magicked afirefly for his assistant. He--hetaught me everything I know!

CHURCHERWhich wouldn't be much, you beingsuch a boy.

The swabs and seamen chuckle.

SERENAThat shows what you know about thepowers of a Cunning Man. Why, Icould grandfather you all two timesover, but why should I look it, eh?It takes a good deal of Talent tokeep your appearance as young asthis.

(beat)Now that I cogitate on it, we've gotbusiness aplenty. No need to goseeking more on the high seas--

As she talks, Markham comes up from below decks followed bya heavy-set man, CAPTAIN BALDRIDGE (53) aka Captain Buttons. Captain Baldridge wears a periwig, spotless breeches, and agreatcoat festooned with much trim and many buttons.

MARKHAM--Nay, wait. Caleb, the Captain andI have been talking. He’s a sensibleman and asks not more than a two-fifth portion to take us along thatbay we seek.

BROWNOh, such a hard deal, Seth. But Ifear we must take it.

The pirates make a show of how painful the deal is. Markhamclaps a hand on Serena’s shoulder.

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MARKHAMAnd I say we let the blackamoor givethe boy a test. That'll tell uswhether we need to sit down and talksquare.

The swabs hoot agreement. Brown goes to the hold and hollersdown.

BROWNJimbo! King James! On deck! Yermaster has a task for ye.

A heavy tread sounds on the companion-way.

A tricorn black hat appears, then shiny black hair oiledback into a plait, a dark face, a pristine white shirt, fawnbreeches, white hose and buckled shoes. KING JAMES (28) isa black man more than six-and-a-half-feet tall.


KING JAMESYou call me, Master Caleb?

BROWNSamuel Goldstone, this here is ourtame magic man. He’s got such royalways, he earned hisself the name ofthe last king but one. King James,or Jimbo to those what know him.

Serena is awed. King James stares at her.

MARKHAMNow, King James hasn’t the power tofind what’s buried. He has magic ofa whole other sort.

BROWNBut we think he’ll know enough totest yer flavor of magic. How aboutit, Jimbo? What’ll the boy dowsefor?

King James reflects a moment.

KING JAMESHmmmmm. We must see Master Goldstonebe knowing the scent of silver, Ithink. My pardon, Captain. I mustborrow from your finery.

King James plucks a button from the captain’s coat. Thecaptain opens his mouth, closes it.

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Blindfolded, Serena stands awaiting a signal. From O.S.,water slaps against the hull. The furled sails pop in thewind. Footsteps creak across the deck.

The tread stops. The men snicker. Brown removes Serena'sblindfold.

BROWNDowse away, Sammie!

Serena holds the two ends of her dowsing rod. Nothinghappens.

SERENAI--I’ll take another of the captain’ssilver buttons in hand, to help meconcentrate my Talent on theinvisibles.

King James plucks another silver button from the Captain’scoat, hands it to Serena.

SERENAAnd Captain, you must step away,please. The many silver buttonsstill on your coat may prove tooattractive.

Captain Baldridge exits to the front deck.

Serena takes the silver button in her hand. She holds theworking ends of the dowsing rod, turns in a circle, watchingthe end of the rod.

The end of the rod quivers. The sailors and swabs notice.OOOOHHHH.

Serena is relieved, feeling something. She looks at thepalm of her hand, then takes the rod in two hands again andconcentrates.

Brown leans against the cathead wall, grinning.

Serena's rod quivers and stretches toward Brown.

Brown continues to grin.

Serena walks purposefully toward Brown. The dowsing rodbucks in her hand, almost turning upside down. It bows backlike a rearing horse, points at Brown’s head. He quitsgrinning.

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Barely able to hold it, Serena drops one leg, causing therod to flip back into a Y shape. She reaches up to Brown’sfrizzy ponytail, plucks out the button, holds it up.


The seamen and swabs cheer. Isaiah looks pleased. KingJames lets out a rolling HA-HA-HAAAA. The disguised piratestrade glances.

CHURCHER(quietly to Markham)

We need this magic with us!

MARKHAM(to Serena)

Well, you're a good little CunningMan indeed.

Serena is exhilarated. She rubs her palms together.

SERENAThanky. So, will you return and putyour case before Anders--ah, mybrother--again?

MARKHAMCertainly. Shall you take Sammie toour quarters, Freddy? Show him theKing's charter that we have?

SERENAOh, I've seen--

(beat)A charter from the King, you say?

(to Markham)And you'll get a shore boat for us?

MARKHAMOh, have no fears.



In a tiny room with three box bunks and a table bolted tothe floor, Serena peers at a parchment paper through thelight of the porthole. Churcher jerks it from her hands.

CHURCHER--And right there. The stamp of HisMajesty.

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SERENA'Tis a charter from His Majesty KingWilliam III for scavenging rights onany recovered treasure.

From above them, the bosun's whistle sounds a new tune. Gears crank and canvas flaps. The rocking rhythm of theship changes.

The first lurch almost knocks Serena off her feet.

SERENAAre--are we--?

Churcher just grins.



The unfurled sails of the Fortunate Osgood spread in thewind. The anchor hangs dripping from the bow. The shipheads to open waters.



SERENATell them to stop the ship!

Markham enters.

MARKHAMYou showed some fine Cunning Manskills up there. And the thing is,we feel you're the one for us.

SERENABut it's Anders you need.

MARKHAMHe showed no enthusiasm for it, y'see. I doubt he'd change his tone after adozen visits from us. You've provenyourself as a man for adventure.

Just an excerpt! The feature-length script is 94 pages.