Day of the Dragon: The Winemaker's Casket
Henri finds himself trapped and facing impending doom
A piece of a five-part non-chronological series centred around the day of the dragon.
The last person who heard his voice calling for help disappeared a while ago. Henri doesn't understand what happened to the man. Maybe he died trying to move the rubble from the cellar door to free him. Maybe his body is just another weight atop the door.
Either way, nobody has since answered Henri’s calls for help.
If not for the heat, Henri could remain in his wine cellar for a few days awaiting rescue, but the temperature is unbearable. The air is thin and hot, drying out his mouth with each breath. He drank a bottle of wine, hoping it would help, but it only shriveled his tongue and puckered his cheeks, making his mouth feel drier.
“Hello! Can anyone hear me! Help!”
Henri waits a moment, but silence meets his calls. There are no more screams or cries coming from above. Either the residents of Gallina have fled or are dead. Tears well in his eyes and his chest tightens as he sobs. He is going to die here. The place that is supposed to bring him and his son a better life is not going to happen.
Large wooden wine casks rest to one side of the cellar, with a bench full of empty glass bottles waiting to be filled with the rich, alcoholic liquid. Money in a bottle. His ledger and writing stationery are pushed to the side. Henri has never been one for note-taking, but in order to recreate the perfect wine-barreling, aging, and bottling process, notes are essential. Now, all those nights spent here working away from his son were worthless.
The winemaker quickly shakes away his regret. The long nights spent here were not pointless, because he spent them with Maria. Sweet Maria. A gentle smile touches Henri’s lips as he wipes the tears from his face. Maria. It is difficult to find love after a loss. When his first wife died, it broke him. Many days and nights he spent away from his son, working in his shop in Gallina to hide his pain.
He couldn’t hide it from Maria, though. She entered his shop on a dreary winter’s day asking about his selection of wines and she settled on his wife’s favourite bottle. He wasn’t strong that day, and as soon as Maria asked if he was alright, the gates holding back his emotions were broken open. The poor woman copped a reaction she wasn’t expecting! She handled Henri’s grief with such compassion and grace, and listened to him talk about his wife so intently. It was very cathartic.
A black void eats at Henri’s heart, a thing of dread. Maria hasn’t arrived to find him. Panicked thoughts spiral in Henri’s mind. The only reason for his hot entrapment is fire and destruction, likely from an invading army. The only trouble is that he hears no soldiers or sounds of fighting above. Did they slaughter the entire city in an instant and raze it? No matter how long he spends thinking of the possibilities, he can’t think of one that makes sense.
One thing is clear: there is nobody left to rescue him.
A corner of a support wooden beam above glows red as the fire eats through it from above. It provides just enough light for Henri to see his surroundings in the cellar.
The winemaker’s breathing is laboured now. The heat is oppressive, pressing down heavily on him from all sides. There is nowhere for him to go. Light in not the only thing the fire brings; Henri sees the smoke puffing into the cellar, spreading across the ceiling with nowhere to escape to.
With this horrible sight, Henri’s fear subsides and moves into acceptance.
He is going to die, if not from the heat of the fire, then from the smoke.
The little time he has left, Henri’s heart yearns to connect with his son once more before he leaves this world. He spreads a piece of parchment flat on the table and readies his ink.
Dear Franklin, my boy,
I believe my time has come, and I won’t get to see you again. When we lost your mother, I didn’t know how to process the loss. The heartbreak was too much for me, and the grief was overwhelming.
I am sorry that I found it easier to spend more time at the shop than to be with you. I didn’t know how to look after you like she did. You are a sturdy boy, and you raised yourself on the path to become a great man. I am proud of you.
There is a woman named Maria Volantis. If you ever cross paths, introduce yourself to her. Unfortunately, I won’t get the chance to do this myself. Maria is why I have been spending so much more time in Gallina recently. She is a brilliant and kind woman, and I am sure she would help you if you are ever in need.
Franklin, I am sorry for my failures. I am proud of you for tackling your problems on your own because of my failures. I don’t know how to console you for my death. If you are grieving, it is okay to be upset. What I learned is that it isn’t okay to grieve alone. Find someone to support you and maybe even become a new family member for you.
A deep hole eats at Henri’s chest like an insatiable void. The words he would have told his son himself will probably only burn up in the fire and never be read. Defeat is an overwhelming feeling.