Give Them Wine
by Mary Brunini McArdle
In the mid-22nd century, a mysterious apocalyptic event has destroyed the world as we know it. In the Mississippi delta country, survivors reorganize in isolated enclaves and live in primitive conditions with little knowledge of their own history.
Donas, a beautiful, bright, curious girl on the verge of womanhood, discovers that her community is hiding a terrible secret: drug-induced conformity. She flees, taking her younger brother Mak and sister Rani with her. They make their way south and find a new life with a new people. They find hope, love and maybe some trace of their own past that might point the way to the future.
Donas drew in a deep, shuddering breath and turned around.
“Yes,” Nakoma said softly. “I’m afraid you’ve discovered what really goes on in our lovely City. I managed to get inside this building once when I was a child. Only it was during the day. And I watched those old men at their work. Their enslavement of the male population here.”
Nakoma gestured toward the table bearing the picture of the rosebud. “That is the formula.”
”Formula’? I don’t know what a ‘formula’ is.”
“Well, it is like a recipe — the ingredients for making something — to eat or drink.”
“And this — this ‘formula’ — is — for what?”
“You are betrothed, but you are not yet wed. Do you know what happens at a wedding?”
“No,” Donas whispered.
“You will give your bridegroom a drink of the secret wine that Alfreda keeps at her house. And then he will be your servant forever.”
“But — there are families here, Nakoma.”
“And have you ever once seen Sebastian tell his wife to do something? Or has it always been the other way around?”
Donas tried to think. It did seem that Sebastian was usually in the background — that Barrett was the decisive partner of the two.
“Is this what you wish for Lionel?” Nakoma continued. “We are all ‘Kateras’ here, Donas, once we are wed. You will be just like your mother.”
Donas was in such a state of shock she did not stop to consider how Nakoma knew about Katera. “No,” Donas moaned, shivering. “No — no! What can I do? I must get away — I must leave. I knew there was something strange about this building and that cup of wine. Is it... is it red wine?”
“Dark red — the color of blood — or roses.”
The two young women stood looking at each other for a moment. In the eerie half-light of the guttering candle, they were like two nervous mares — nostrils quivering, hair wild and loose and tangled — both pairs of eyes dilated so that they looked black instead of their natural color.
“The first thing we must do is to remove ourselves from this building,” Nakoma said. “The punishment for being caught here is death.”
She moved toward the arched entrance. “Come, Donas. Down the stairs.”
Donas followed the other girl, heart pounding. When they reached the lower level, Donas stopped. She thought a moment, then pointed to one of the stashes of spears. “There are a great many of those. Do you think anyone will notice if I take a few?”
“No. Take a half-dozen. But hurry.”
Donas put out her candle, realizing she couldn’t manage the spears, her skirts, and a live flame all at once.
Nakoma inched toward the entrance, glanced out, and motioned to Donas to wait. After what seemed like a long time, Nakoma whispered, “His back is to us. Now, Donas!”
Swift as the night flyers with the large eyes and the silent wings, the two young women fled into the darkness seconds before the Guard made his turn.
Donas stopped again a few yards away from the house of Sebastian, a touch of her normal presence of mind returning. “I can’t take these weapons in there, Nakoma — someone will see them.”
“Let me keep them for you.”
“What about your mother?”
“She has already retired. I’ll put them under my bed. Don’t worry, Donas. Go home. We will meet sometime tomorrow — or the next day. I’ll help you figure out what to do.”
Donas reached out compulsively and grasped the other girl’s hand. “Nakoma—”
Nakoma put her arms around the darker-skinned young woman and hugged her. “Keep calm, Donas. Say nothing. Try to get your sleep tonight. And go on ahead. I think it would be better if we did not arrive home at the same time.”
No one was at the house of Sebastian except for Rani and she was still awake. “Donas, I’m so thirsty.”
“Rani, you look flushed.” Donas went over to her and touched her cheek. “Why, you’re warm! Are you not feeling well?”
“I’m thirsty and my throat hurts a little.”
“Let me get you some more water.”
‘Please, no!’ Donas thought, nausea beginning to overcome her once more. ‘Rani simply cannot become ill now. How can I think? Or plan? How can I take Rani from this place if she is ill?’
There was the sound of voices from the front of the house.
Donas knew some of the family must be returning. ‘Let it not be Lionel just yet,’ she pleaded inwardly. ‘I cannot see him now — I cannot!’
But it was Sewella and Sebastian instead. Donas clenched her teeth and went to inquire about Alfreda.
“There is a woman helping; one who knows how to turn babies,” Sewella said. “Alfreda’s is not head down — that is why she’s been having a bad time. Has Lionel returned?”
“I’m going to the stables and talk to him,” Sebastian announced. “We’ll probably join Barrett, and send Mak back here.”
“I’ll come with you,” Sewella said.
“I must stay here, Sewella,” Donas said. “I think Rani is ill.”
“Oh, I wish I could help—”
“It’s probably just a childhood thing — you need to be with your sister. I can take care of Rani. Would you tell Lionel about it, and that I’ve gone to bed?”
So Donas was able to escape Lionel’s attentions temporarily. All through the night, once she had gotten Rani to sleep, Donas lay with tortured thoughts running through her head. She welcomed the two or three times Rani woke asking for water, and said little to Mak when he finally came to bed, refusing to respond to his energetic comments about his work, Alfreda, and all the rest of it.
‘I am only fifteen years of age,’ Donas thought, toward morning, ‘and I feel I have been running away forever. Will I ever find a safe place for us? Is there a safe place anywhere?’
The morning brought burning eyes and a parched throat, the hot and blurred feeling of a body deprived of sleep and tormented by anxiety. Donas told Rani to stay in bed and went to the kitchen to get them both some tea. Mak left importantly for the stables, stating that he was badly needed there, with both Lionel and Sebastian required to remain at Alfreda’s. The house was very quiet.
‘I can’t go to Nakoma’s until afternoon,’ Donas realized. ‘She’s got to work in the market all morning.’
Donas spent the time attending Rani, who was definitely ill, but with just a mild fever. When she was awake she was grumpy and argumentative, refusing to eat anything and complaining constantly of thirst and boredom.
Finally, around midday, the family returned, except for Lionel. “He’s going to the stable for an hour or so, and then he’ll come here to rest,” Sebastian explained.
“And Alfreda?” Donas asked.
“Oh, Donas, everything is all right. She’s exhausted — she had such a terrible time,” Barrett exclaimed.
“And the baby!” Sewella said. “I didn’t want to leave! Such a beauty! A little girl.”
‘Another Katera,’ Donas thought sadly.
“Donas, I think we’re all going to have to sleep for a while,” Sewella added. “But I told mother to look in on Rani first.”
Barrett declared that Rani was not seriously ill, and would probably recover in a day or so. “Keep giving her plenty of water and tea, and later I’ll make her some broth.”
“Thank you, Barrett,” Donas said and then thought: ‘Everyone will be asleep all afternoon. I’ll be able to go to Nakoma without saying anything.’
Donas settled Rani for a nap and left the house. All the while she could hear the same words echoing over and over: We are all “Kateras” here.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle