"It's Only Natural"|
<b>I. "Sai, western wall. Top shelf. Third vial from the left. I <b>need that next"
Sai moved towards the wall lined with a number of unlabelled jars and vials containing various plants and powders of every hue nature created. Sai placed her small hand on the rung and climbed the ladder to fetch what was asked of her. While she was not allowed to play with the ingredients inside, Sai had been climbing the ladder to get the vials for Mother ever since she could remember.
<b>II. "You must use the utmost care in handling the plants."
Her mother placed a pair of gloves in Sai's hands, nodding with approval to put them on. They began to walk about the greenhouse. Sai equipped herself with a basket in order to collect some of the things Mother would point out.
"Those over there, oleanders, the ones with the bright pink petals... the petals are nearly useless for collection. We want the leaves, stems, and seeds. They are crushed into a powder."
Sai daintily picked yellow berries off of a daphne plant as her mother began to gravitate towards a plant with petite bell-shaped flowers and berries. She lifted a branch to get a closer look at the flowers and noted, "These are Belladonnas. Collect some berries when you are done there. But don't eat any."
<b>III. "Madam, the guests have arrived."
Sai watched her mother's brow quirk up as she proceeded to sip her tea. Her mother placed a warm hand on Sai's and gave it a gentle squeeze. In the past, Sai was always dismissed when guests came to consult Mother. Now that Sai had reached her thirteenth year, she felt confident that she, too, would soon be able to understand the potential the vials and jars held.
They all moved into the workshop, the three guests stood around the table her mother was often found crushing or grinding plants and seeds. Sai stood off to the side as her mother grabbed something from the southern wall before approaching the table. This time, there was simply a bowl and a knife on the surface.
Sai's mother produced a vial from her sleeve and showcased it to the confused visitors. She nodded to the knife and one of the men made a small cut to his finger, allowing blood to fall in the bowl. Carefully removing the top to the vial, Sai's mother poured some of the clear liquid into the bowl. Sai watched from the side as the men peered over the bowl, witnessing their perplexed expressions morph into one of satisfaction. They nodded, exchanging a pouch of coins for the vial.
After the men left the workshop, Sai approached the table and peered over the bowl as well. The blood that had collected in the bowl was no longer liquid. It had completely congealed.
<b>IV. "This tradition has been meticulously kept by the women <b>of our household for generations, Sai. This is what we do."
Sai had never considered what her mother did could be used for harm. The deceptively bright pink oleanders held leaves and stems that could be used to stop the heart. The yellow and red berries of a daphne could place one in a slumber that they would never wake from. The berries from belladonnas that Sai had collected many times could choke the lungs and cease a person's ability to breathe.
Sai heard many feet rushing past her in the corridor, breaking her from her thoughts. She noticed the servants running towards the alleyway just beyond the back gate. The servants crowded around something as they cheered with excitement.
Sai used her arms to push aside the curtain of bodies to see on a small wooden stool sat a pot with two painted scorpions, the numbers '1' and '2', circling each other. Sai watched as the small creatures went about dancing with their tails in anticipation of striking at any moment. Just as a voice began to cheer for '2', Sai watched '1' finally grab hold of the other scorpion and land its stinger in its abdomen. Sai peered over the bowl and muttered the words, "I suppose it's in your nature..."