Andrea/Cara here, thinking about how delightfully magical it is when actual history confirms an author’s fanciful imagination! See this amazing artifact—I will explain in a moment. But first, a brief preface . . .
Although I write fiction, and am allowed to take artistic license and make things up when my plot requires it, I feel very strongly about creating an accurate Regency world for my make-believe characters. I try to get all the little details right, from manners and titles, to fashion and food, and all the other elements of daily life. And when actual events are part of the story, I do a lot of background reading to make sure I stick to the facts. (Granted within those events, I let my characters create their own reality.)
Now, I’ve been working on a new Lady Arianna novel, and some of the action is set on Elba, just before Napoleon bolts and retakes the throne of France. So the emperor has a cameo role in the mystery (yes, more research reading!) though we don’t see him all that much. However, from past research, I knew he had a great interest in the occult, and believed in mysticism and the power of the tarot . . .
Aha! Inspiration strikes! I suddenly have an idea for a plot twist! (These aha moments are very exciting.) I don’t want to give away what it is, but I decide Napoleon has to have a lucky talisman. So I merrily brainstorm and come up with an imaginary one that I think is perfect. I make note of it and set the brief sketch aside for when I write the scene.
Then, I happen to researching something else, when to my amazement, google gives me search result called “Napoleon’s talisman.” Naturally I click on it . . . and nearly fall off my chair. (Now you may go back and look at the top image.)
I had come up with something I thought was pretty cool, but this sort-blows your Hessians off, right? And it's the real deal. He had this created as his good luck talisman sometime between 1802-1804, and it’s thought that the great sculptor Canova might have made it. There’s an incredibly detailed description of all the arcane symbolism and secret codes designed into the piece, which you can read here.
This truly doesn’t happen that often, where I imagine an item or a piece of clothing or a painting—and then discover the perfect example actually exists in real life. I guess you could say I got lucky!
So, rather than explain some of the talisman’s meaning, I’ll share the rough draft of the scene I wrote:
“I’ve heard you have a great interest in Egypt.”
“Yes, it’s a magical land, filled with mystery and wonders.” As brash young general, Napoleon had convinced the revolutionary leaders of France to allow him to invade Egypt in 1798. The practical reason was to disrupt trade British with India, but even then, he had been captivated by the ancient mysticism of the East.
“The Pyramids . . .” His breath seemed to catch in his throat. “As for the Sphinx, that creature who guards the great mysteries of Life. She represents wisdom and strength, life and death . . .”
He lifted a finger and gestured for her to come closer.
Arianna swallowed hard, surprised to find her heart was thumping against her ribs, and slowly crossed the carpet.
“You speak of chocolate as having special powers, so I know you have the imagination to see beyond the ordinary.” His voice dropped another notch. “People like you and I can appreciate that there are unseen forces that guide our destiny—we simply must learn how to channel them.”
A small leather case was cradled in his palm. He inserted a tiny gold key into the lock and gave a twist.
The lid popped free. With a flick of his thumb, Napoleon raised it.
Nestled on a bed of green velvet was a small sphinx carved out of crystal. It sat on a low, jewel-encrusted pedestal of silver.
“Ooooh.” An involuntary gasp slipped from her lips.
“Isn’t it magnificent?” The emperor carefully lifted it from its case and held it up to the light. “It was made for me by the great sculptor Canova, and together we designed it to be a powerful talisman for good luck.” He shifted it slightly, so the sun played off the jewels. “You see the four peridots? They are my birthstone, and green is my favorite color We’ve also added symbols from the ancient Egyptian tarot . . . four signifies “emperor” and thirteen signifies “death.”
Arianna wondered how death could be lucky.
Napoleon smiled, as if reading her thoughts. “It signifies death of the old regime. I was crowned emperor in the thirteenth year of the new French constitution. The pearls stand for divine wisdom, and the red rubies for the power of love.”
He paused, his eyes growing bright with unshed tears. “And ten signifies the tenth letter of the alphabet—J for Josephine. Her love and loyalty remained unwavering throughout the years.” His gaze lingered on the crystal face of the Sphinx. “And she always said she brought me good luck. So, voila, though she have gone to the grave, her spirit remains with me.”
He bowed his head for a moment, then went on to explain the other arcane symbolism.
“It’s most impressive,” whispered Arianna as he laid it back on its bed of velvet and closed the lid. Even though she didn’t believe in the power of trinkets and talismans, she felt a strange current quivering through the air.
“Yes, and it will soon . . .”
She waited, but he turned away and returned the case to the drawer . . .
So that’s a small peek into the fun sorts of things that can happen in the writing cave. (I won’t share the ones that me hurling invectives at the heavens, much to the dismay of my long-suffering teddy bear, who is a very sensitive soul.) And BTW, the new book, tentatively entitled SMOKE & LIES, should be going up for pre-order at the end of February, so stayed tuned!
What about you—do you believe in lucky charms? Do have a talisman or some sort of item that you feel brings you good fortune? Please share!