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.
Rani eventually ceased her crying. She walked mutely, head down, looking at her feet. Her breath caught every now and then in little soft hiccups. Donas’s nostrils intercepted the strong smell of horse and dung and damp hay.
Mak stood just inside the entrance to the stable, holding Windflower’s reins. The stable was too dark for Donas to read his face. What little light there was wobbled from the single candle Mak had taken with him and put down somewhere out of sight.
Donas strained to see. “Mak — have you the other horses ready too?” she asked.
Mak did not answer her. Instead, someone stepped from behind Windflower; someone with arms folded, legs spread, and blue eyes blazing. “Just what in the name of the Maker of us all do you think you are about to do, Donas?”
Donas heard Nakoma’s dress rustle as she withdrew back into the shadows behind Rani.
“Lionel!” Donas gasped. She stared at him for a few seconds, then turned to her brother. “Mak! You told him, didn’t you? You told!”
“He told me you had gotten some ridiculous notions in your mind, Donas. He told me how irrationally you were behaving.”
“But — you were supposed to be — we waited until we were sure you and Sewella were asleep.”
“Mak and I talked about all this yesterday. I decided it best to let you go forward with the plans you had already made — otherwise you would have devised a way to change them. I pretended to retire — actually I left before Mak. So that I could be here, waiting. I must say—” at this a brief smile crossed Lionel’s face — “he looked a bit strange when he got here with those water jugs.”
Rani giggled. “He looked funny,” she said. Mak scowled fiercely at her, his face turning red with embarrassment.
Lionel leaned to the side and looked over Donas’s shoulder. “What new mischief have you been brewing, Nakoma?”
“What do you mean, Lionel? She is my friend. She was trying to help me.” Donas’s voice quavered.
“Help get rid of you, I suspect. I was concerned when she told Barrett about your being Katera’s daughter. It didn’t seem much like a friendly thing to do.”
“Nakoma told Barrett? I assumed Mak confided in you.”
“No, Nakoma pried that little piece of information out of Rani.”
“That was really stupid,” Mak said. He glared at his younger sister, forgetting that he had once almost divulged the same thing himself.
“I’m sorry, Mak.” Rani jerked one of her plaits around and began chewing on the end of it.
“But what about... what about the rest of it?” Donas was beginning to feel the blood drain from her head.
“The rest of what, Donas?” Lionel said patiently. Nakoma started to step quietly toward the stable door. “Hold it, Nakoma,” Lionel said. “You’re staying here to finish this. Tell me, Donas, what has frightened you so badly that you thought you had to leave me?”
“I can’t... I’m afraid to tell you.”
“Because I will be killed. And so will—”
“Killed? By whom?”
“I suppose by the Masters of Decision, because... because I was inside the Storyteller’s Hall.”
“Who told you that?”
“I can’t say. I don’t want to get anyone else killed.”
Lionel laughed shortly. “Donas, Nakoma was caught in there when she was a child. All the Masters did was make her clean the downstairs chamber for a week.”
Donas’s mouth dropped open. “But what about what I saw there? Those books — and the one with the drawing of the rosebud? And the wine Alfreda keeps — the red wine for the marriage feasts that makes a slave of all the bridegrooms? I couldn’t do that to you, Lionel.”
“Nakoma!” Lionel moved quickly to her and caught her arm just as she was preparing to bolt. “I knew you were a spoiled, selfish child, but I didn’t dream you would go this far. Did you tell Donas some insane story about that cup of wine?”
Nakoma tried to pull her arm away. Her green eyes were dark with hatred. “Yes! Yes, I told her that, and more! You were supposed to be for me! And you would have been if that... that intruder hadn’t come here!” She pointed at Donas, who stared at her in disbelief.
“Get out of here, Nakoma. You’ve made enough trouble. I’ll personally see to it that your behavior is reported to the Masters. You’re a jealous and deceitful woman. As if there was any way you could ever make me love you!” Lionel dropped his hold on Nakoma’s arm in disgust.
“Oh, Lionel, they won’t kill her, will they?”
“They don’t kill anyone. The ultimate form of punishment in the City is banishment. She is only fifteen; I suspect they won’t be that harsh. Fortunately for her I was able to stop you before something really serious happened to you and Mak and Rani.”
Nakoma threw down the spears at Donas’s feet, then rushed into the fog, her crimson skirts flying behind her.
“Good,” Lionel said, with satisfaction. “She’s gone. It is Nakoma, not you, Donas, with whom the Masters of Decision will be dealing.”
“No.” A voice spoke with firm dignity from the shadows into which Nakoma had disappeared. “It is I who will have to deal with Nakoma.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle