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To Labor and to Wait
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The Herbalist

The air grows colder, and we stock our storerooms with herbs and drugs. My days are filled with the work: boiling and crushing, powdering and bottling. I can name the plants as their leaves slip through my fingers: here is the mild tang of chamomile, and before that the hard earth-scent of the dried parsley, and ere that, I touched the sweet fire-smell of cloves. I have forgotten their colors, save for the pale flashes that come to me in dreams, but that is no matter: to be an herbalist, one needs not her eyes.

Even when I was younger, when my eyes were better, my vision still was poor. Now it is all but gone. At times I can discern some shapes, some movement—darkness converging in darkness. That, too, is no matter; I walk the halls of these Houses, walk the spokes and wheels of our gardens, as straight and surely as any sighted woman. If I had need of it, I could even venture into the City, itself, and know my path, stone circle on stone circle. I know the others before they speak, by the sound of their footsteps and the noise of their movements: the soft rustle of the girls’ skirts, the fussing and fidgeting of the restless men and the slow measured breathing of the calm ones.

I dread not the creeping darkness that everyone here speaks of in anxious whispers. I walk in blackness; there is nothing to fear there. Instead, I fear endings and emptiness. Even as they clutch at stems and flowers, my hands tremble at the thought of hollow rooms, ruined passages and vacant spaces: nothing to hold but ashes and nothing to breathe but smoke.

Sightless I may be, but I know the City shifts around me; even now its shapes are changing and its echoes wane against the stone.


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