For those who haven’t been following this blog, let me introduce it a little. I am currently blogging my 21st novel that has the working title Daemon. The novel is about Aksinya, a sorceress, who, to save her family from the Bolsheviks, called and contracted the demon, Asmodeus. Her family was murdered anyway, and she fled with the demon from Russia to Austria.
Now we are getting down to business. Everything in the novel before was a setup for what will happen in the next two chapters. This is the beginning of the climax of the novel...
On Wednesday, Ernst escorted Aksinya to dinner and the opera. He greeted Aksinya at her house with a bouquet of roses. He explained the extravagance, “Because I am working for him, my father increased my remittance.” At each place they visited, Aksinya thought she spotted Asmodeus. She caught a glimpse of him in the mirror at the Palais Coburg Hotel Residenz, and in the grand foyer of the Wien State Opera. A strong whiff of sulfur came to her in both places. When the Champagne and caviar came at the intermission for Tristan und Isolde, Aksinya thought she saw Asmodeus sneaking in the corridor just outside their box seats. Warned by his potential presence, she intended to drink less because of it, but ended up drinking more than she planned.
Before the beginning of the second act, Natalya prepared a blemis with caviar and handed it to Aksinya. Aksinya took the flat piece of bread, “Thank you, Lady Natalya.”
Natalya smiled oddly at her, “Would you care for another glass of Champagne?”
Aksinya cocked her head and grinned back, “Please, as long as you are pouring, Lady Natalya, I won’t fear for my virtue.”
Natalya filled Aksinya’s flute and continued to hand her another blemis with caviar. Natalya wasn’t certain how many times Natalya refilled her glass that evening, but by the end of the opera, she couldn’t stand on her own. Natalya and Ernst had to both help her to Ernst’s landau and then back into her house.
Ernst didn’t kiss Aksinya that evening, at least she had no recollection that he kissed her. She wished he had. She didn’t remember much at all. In the morning, she woke with a splitting headache. A strange whiff of incense and sulfur touched her nose. Someone was opening the shutters of her windows. Aksinya didn’t open her eyes, “Don’t let the sun in Nata. I’ve told you so many times.”
The transition from the buildup of the plot to the climax is just like any transition, but this one isn't just a transition in space or time, it is a transition in action. Within the form of this novel, you might not notice this short transition as the transition to the climax except that I point it out to you. That's all right, I don't expect my readers to deconstruct my novels, but in this commentary, I want you to note these very important points both for your elucidation and so you can see the power of story, plot, and theme all together.
We see a simple continuance of Ernst's wooing and affection. There are changes. We know there are changes in the thoughts of the characters. Aksinya has a decision to make. Ernst has made his decisions, but he is awaiting and still wooing. By the end of this scene, it will be obvious that Natalya has made some decision of her own. Watch closely, I'll point it out to you. The demon, Asmodeus, has obviously made some decision (or the culmination of a decision)--something is afoot.
A whole bouquet of roses from Ernst. He is working for his father now. Ernst is making more money. They visit their favorite places. Notice that none of these places were chosen by Aksinya--they are Ernst's favorites. Plus the places haven't changed--they are the same. I didn't point this out until now--hope you noticed. I did it on purpose to indicate to you that Ernst is pleasing himself, not necessarily Aksinya. There is a metaphor in this--remember Aksinya pleases herself too. Aksinya is too happy with the luxuria to notice, but she hasn't been wooed before.
Asmodeus is everywhere. This should be an indicator. I gave you little hints and little glimpses of the demon before. This time, in a single paragraph, I give you Asmodeus in person and scent. I show you him through Aksinya's eyes. The reason I pack the Asmodeus sightings into a single paragraph is so you won't miss them. Because of her sightings, Aksinya intends to drink less--so she can keep a steady head, but look what happens... Natalya begins to pour the Champagne for Aksinya. This is indeed a change. Usually it is Ernst and Natalya tries to keep some check on Aksinya. Now, Natalya is providing luxuria to Aksinya. Aksinya will not reject it from Natalya's hands because, “...as long as you are pouring, Lady Natalya, I won’t fear for my virtue.” It is not perhaps Aksinya's virtue we should worry about--or is it?
This was the decision of Natalya that I mentioned before. We can see that at some point in the evening or before, Natalya made a decision to get Aksinya drunk. The purpose, we don't know. The result we shall see. Aksinya intended to not become drunk tonight, but she could not reject the temptation from Natalya's hands.
Look at this, the demon has not been in control of anyone at all through the entire novel. He has only placed ideas in the minds of the characters. With Aksinya, the ideas have been from subtle to overt. He has worked subtly through others to tempt or to get them to tempt. In any case, Aksinya is too drunk to stand, but still awake when Natalya and Ernst take her home.
This scene flows intentionally into the next. It is a direct continuation that I don't want you to miss. Therefore the physical transition is set in a single paragraph. Look closely at the details. The focus is Aksinya--she didn't get a kiss. She didn't remember the evening after her return to the house. She has a hangover. Her room has the scent of sulfur and incense. The sulfur and incense are very important here. I know that most of the time, as we read, we might just miss some of these simple details. This is a critical detail, so I underplay it a little. If you think back through the novel, you know the scent of sulfur is the demon. Asmodeus has been in Aksinya's room. He was there long enough and late enough for the scent to still be there. Second, the scent of incense in this novel has only been used in a single context. I won't tell you. If you remember, you might guess. Tomorrow, I'll give you more hints. We'll start from this last paragraph. Reread today's transition scene. See that it is simple and downplayed--that is the point.