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.
Natalya is missing. Sister Margarethe believes Aksinya sent her on an errand. Natalya has been absent all night. In her bedroom, Aksinya smelled the scent of incense and sulfur. The incense is from a great sorcery, and the sulfur from Asmodeus...
After breakfast, Sister Margarethe dressed Aksinya and brushed her hair. She didn’t notice the strange expression on Aksinya’s face. She didn’t see how pale she was or how wide and frightened her eyes were. Or, if she did, perhaps she attributed it to the alcohol and lack of sleep.
Aksinya was ill during chapel and vomited before Sister Margarethe could rush her into the hallway outside. Sister Margarethe tried to comfort her and brought her tea before class, but the tea was not made to Aksinya’s taste, and Aksinya was in no mood to be comforted. By the time, she arrived at her first class, her hair was loose around her face and her clothing had spots from her accident and from the tea she spilled. She put her head down on her desk and tried to sleep. She couldn’t do anything else, Sister Margarethe had forgotten Aksinya’s bag. It was the bag Nata always carried for her. The bag had all her school books and papers inside.
Finally, in the late morning, Natalya opened the classroom door. Someone touched Aksinya’s arm, and she raised her head. Aksinya’s eyes widened. She stood at her desk and nearly fell. She started toward Natalya and did fall. She tripped on the desk and dropped to one knee. Natalya was instantly beside her. She took Aksinya’s arms and lifted her up. Aksinya put her arms around Natalya and held her close. Her eyes widened again—there was that smell plus another. There was the scent of sorcery and a strange musty smell Aksinya couldn’t place. Aksinya pulled back slightly from Natalya and stared at her. Natalya lowered her eyes. She led Aksinya back to their desks. Natalya straightened Aksinya’s hair and brushed off her clothing.
Natalya didn’t say anything to her, and Aksinya was afraid to ask anything.
That evening at dinner in the dinning room at Sacré Coeur, the moment after Reverend Mother Kluge finished praying Anna Pfaff asked, “Well, did Herr von Taaffe take you out last night?”
Aksinya didn’t answer.
Natalya replied in very precise German, “He took her to Tristan und Isolde by Wagner. It was a tragedy.”
Frieda Trauen scrunched her lips to the side, “I wanted to see that, but papa wouldn’t take me.”
Fraulein Pfaff took a sip of soup, “Whyever not, Frieda?”
“He said it was too German.”
Diedre Vogt tried to catch Aksinya’s eyes, “Countess, have you considered what you might answer Herr von Taaffe?”
Aksinya turned her head away.
Fraulein Trauen grinned, “Did you have a fight with him?”
Natalya voice sounded too happy, “She was drunk last night.”
Fraulein’s Trauen’s smile widened, “Too drunk to fight. What kind of wife will Herr von Taaffe get for himself.”
Natalya took a bite of her fish course, “Herr von Taaffe knows exactly the kind of wife he will be getting.”
Aksinya didn’t act as if she heard. She didn’t eat. The moment dinner was over, she stood and made her way back out of the dining room. Natalya followed closely behind her.
Aksinya has literally given up all hope at this moment. She has lost her best and really only friend in the world. Natalya is missing, and Aksinya knows it was somehow by the hand of Asmodeus. She knows something terrible is happening or about to happen, she can't imagine what it might be.
I want you to see Aksinya at this moment. I want you to imagine exactly what she appears like. The first description I give you is obliquely through Sister Margarethe's eyes. I use an advanced technique that doesn't change POV, but implies the POV of another. This is the description: She [Sister Margarethe] didn’t notice the strange expression on Aksinya’s face. She didn’t see how pale she was or how wide and frightened her eyes were. You can imagine Aksinya's face. She isn't pretty to begin with, add sickly and pitiful to that description--and she doesn't care anymore.
To add to the description of the sad-eyed Aksinya, she is ill at chapel. This is the first time I have actually said she vomited. I use this word intentionally for the shock value, so you feel like Aksinya, and to separate this incident from all the times Aksinya depended on Natalya to take care of her. Sister Margarethe is trying to help, but it isn't the same. Aksinya's attitude is hopeless and perhaps not as childish as we might think. Remember the admonition over the Gates of Dante's hell: abandon all hope ye who enter here. Aksinya has seen hell, and she believes her friend is facing some hell because of her.
The final descriptions are about Aksinya's hair and her clothing. Natalya always made certain Aksinya looked and dressed properly. Aksinya is like a kindergartner; she is unable to take care of her own dressing and clothing. In class, Aksinya has nothing to do--Sister Margarethe forgot Aksinya's bag.
Then, the return of Natalya. I intentionally downplay the beginning to add to the poignancy at the end. Notice, someone touches Aksinya's arm to alert her--others in the classroom also realize how important Natalya is to Aksinya. Note, Aksinya tries to come to Natalya. Always before, Natalya came to Aksinya. Aksinya trips otherwise, she would have run to Natalya. Something has radically changed in this dynamic. Natalya lifts up Aksinya--this is an expected outcome.
At their meeting I give you some very important details that have to do with scent: the scent of sorcery and the scent of... I describe it as musky. You might guess what this smell is. Aksinya hasn't any idea what it could be. Aksinya shows surprise, but Natalya won't look her in the eye. Then, Natalya leads Aksinya back to their desks. Natalya makes Aksinya look presentable again. Natalya doesn't say anything and Aksinya is afraid to ask. In our minds and Aksinya's mind, we wonder, what terrible thing could have happened to Natalya--she doesn't appear the worse for wear.
The transition is to dinner. Here I want to show you more of this new dynamic between Aksinya and Natalya. Anna, our romantic, asks about Aksinya's evening. Aksinya is still in the mode of hopelessness. She will not respond, but look who answers for her--Natalya. Listen to the tone: “He took her to Tristan und Isolde by Wagner. It was a tragedy.” Remember, I told you each opera and ballet are metaphors for Aksinya's life. If you know Tristan und Isolde, you know what might have happened. Listen to the conversation. Fraulein Trauen's father wouldn't take her because it was too German. This is an Austrian joke. It means that it was too dour. We can guess that the prudish Fraulein Trauen's father didn't want his daughter to see the adultery in the opera. Tristan und Isolde is considered an adult opera especially for the time.
Natalya's response: she laughed. The conversation returns to Aksinya. Fraulein Trauen baits Aksinya: “Did you have a fight with him?” And Natalya answers for Aksinya and there is deep irony in her answers. Fraulein Trauen: "What kind of wife will Herr von Traaffe get for himself.” Natalya's response sounds like a threat: “Herr von Taaffe knows exactly the kind of wife he will be getting.”
Aksinya does not respond. She does not react. She ignores them all. Though Natalya has returned, there is no hope for Aksinya. Tomorrow, the return of hope?