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.
When Ernst took Aksinya to the Opera the night before, Natalya helped get Aksinya drunk to the point that she couldn't stand. Aksinya wakes in the morning...
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.”
“I’m not the Lady Natalya,” came Sister Margarethe’s voice.
Aksinya jerked to a sitting position and was overcome with dizziness. Her head ached. She held her head in her hands and fought down the nausea that enveloped her. Finally, between clenched teeth, she forced, “Where’s Nata? Where is she?”
Sister Margarethe sat on the side of the bed, “I have no idea. I assumed you sent her on an errand last night. She asked me to take care of you last evening, and she said I was to wake you in the morning.”
“You’ve seen her this morning?”
“No. She last spoke to me when Herr von Taaffe brought you home drunk again.”
Aksinya’s eyes widened, “Where is she? We must find her.”
“I’m certain she is fine. She seemed to be off on something important.”
“She can’t be fine. She can’t be. Why are you speaking so nonchalantly about this?”
“Let me help you with your bath. I’ve already drawn it for you.”
Aksinya was suddenly listless. She allowed Sister Margarethe to pull her out of bed and remove her nightgown. The nun helped her into the bath, “I’ll bring your morning tea and breakfast in a moment.”
Aksinya sat in the warm tub with her hands clasped together. She heard her sitting room door open and close. She couldn’t remember a waking moment when Nata was not at her side. This seemed too strange to her. Aksinya stared at her hands. Her eyes opened wide, the faint line of new scar crossed the many others on her left hand. She couldn’t imagine how it could have happened. She hadn’t done that kind of magic in a while. Finally, the sitting room door opened again. She heard Sister Margarethe as she directed the novices. The door shut again, and Sister Margarethe stepped into the bathroom, “Are you ready to get out, Countess?”
Sister Margarethe helped her out of the tub and dried her. She put a dressing gown around Aksinya’s shoulders, and led her into the sitting room. Sister Margarethe poured the tea and served Aksinya breakfast. That’s when Aksinya finally caught a whiff of it. Aksinya lifted her head and enunciated a couple of Latin words. She hadn’t practiced any sorcery in a while. The crucifix between her breasts heated immediately, but Aksinya knew it then. Sister Margarethe had been touched with sorcery. Her room had a definite scent of incense and under that, the sink of sulfur. Aksinya understood there could only be one source for it—it had to be that cursed demon, Asmodeus.
She didn’t know what to do. She had no idea where Natalya had gone. She wasn’t certain she could get anyone to help her. Sister Margarethe was convinced that Natalya had just gone out on an errand. Aksinya couldn’t appeal to her or to anyone in this world except… She began to pray. She wasn’t certain it would do any good, but she reasoned prayer couldn’t hurt. If Natalya didn’t return soon, Aksinya would call the demon that evening and demand that he come to her—explain everything to her.
In the morning, when Aksinya wakes, Sister Margarethe and not Natalya is in her bedroom. With this short interaction, I give you an interesting view of Natalya and Aksinya's existence together. In the morning, we know Natalya wakes Aksinya. Natalya likes to open the shutters, Aksinya doesn't want so much sunlight in the morning. We could have guessed this about Aksinya's personality, but it is fun for me to confirm your thoughts. This is one of those little reminders of the characters' personalities. These are not throw-away details, but continue to round out the characters and their personalities.
Natalya is missing. Aksinya has a terrible hangover, but her first thought is of Natalya. I don't want you to miss the incense and sulfur smell in Aksinya's bedroom. This we know indicates the demon has been recently in the room. The incense means...I'll get to that eventually. If you have read this novel from the beginning, you might be able to guess. You'll get more hints later.
Where is Natalya? Sister Margarethe assumed Aksinya sent her on an errand last night. Sister Margarethe spoke to Natalya, and Natalya left instructions for the sister. This seems well planned. Aksinya asks if the Sister has seen Natalya this morning--the Sister saw Natalya last night. The Sister gets a small dig in about Aksinya coming home drunk with Herr von Taaffe.
Aksinya knows that Natalya's disappearance is a very big deal. I don't tell you how distraught Aksinya is, I show you. Sister Margarethe tries to soothe and placate Aksinya, and I show you how the Sister sounds to Aksinya--nonchalant. She does sound nonchalant and this is unusual for Sister Margarethe. She is not as worried about Natalya. She never has shown much attention to Natalya--the Sister sees Natalya as a rival, but Sister Margarethe is always concerned about Aksinya. What bothers Aksinya should bother Sister Margarethe.
I don't show you Aksinya's thoughts here. I show you her reaction. It suddenly dawns on Aksinya, the sulfur, the missing Natalya, the nonchalant Sister Margarethe, the demon has had a hand in Natalya's disappearance. That is why Aksinya becomes listless--she knows she can do nothing to find or help Natalya.
The bath has been a place for revelations before in this novel. It is a symbol for revelations in this book. I chose it intentionally. The subject matter fits it, but the bath is an obvious metaphor for baptism. Initially, the demon prepared a bath for Aksinya. He metaphorically baptised her. That bath included great revelations about Aksinya. Natalya prepared the next bath for Aksinya, and Natalya participated in a bath using the same water after Aksinya. These were revelations about Aksinya and Natalya. Now, Sister Margarethe prepares a bath for Aksinya...
In the bath, Aksinya thinks about Natalya. Aksinya's hands are clasped together. It is strange that Aksinya should realize she can't remember a time when Natalya was not with her. Aksinya notes a new scar on her left hand--we know what that means. Aksinya cast a successful great sorcery last night--do you remember the scent of incense. This was the hint before that foreshadows this revelation now. Aksinya made a great enchantment and has no memory of it at all.
As Sister Margarethe pours tea for Aksinya's breakfast, Aksinya detects a whiff of sorcery on the Sister. I mentioned this more than once that Ernst could detect the smell of sorcery. Aksinya knows it too well. Aksinya puts all this together for us. Asmodeus has somehow affected Aksinya and Sister Margarehte, and Natalya is missing.
Aksinya has not given up hope, but she knows she can't fight the demon directly. No one, she believe, in the physical world can help her. She prays and isn't certain if prayer will help either. She will confront the demon over Natalya. She is driven to this. She will face anything for her friend, but note Aksinya's despondency--she realizes there is little she can do. Tomorrow, Natalya returns?