“Ugh. This isn’t helping at all,” I said to the still-green apple hovering over my head.

Quiet meditation surrounded by my garden had always helped me clear my head when problems arose in the past. But these days trying to quiet my mind just seemed to lead me deeper into myself pushing me closer to the darkness I didn’t want to name. What I really needed was someone to talk to.

I pushed myself up into a sitting position. It was strange not to want to talk to pinky or my sisters about what was bothering me; they had always been there for me. I knew they would want to be there for me now, but I just didn’t feel like this was something I could talk to them about. I just couldn’t see any way they would understand how I was feeling.

There was one person outside of my family that I’d always been able to talk to. I’d met Maggie more than a decade ago, when I was around eleven or twelve and Pinky had just let me set up my vegetable stall at the city market. She was she was a traveling vendor who set up shop at the market every month. The first time we met we had an instant rapport. I had always felt a strange yet comforting connection to the older woman. She was the only person I had ever been able to tell the real truth about my visions. Only she knew just how dark some of the things I saw were.

The thing I love most about Maggie was that she never offered me platitudes or promised everything would be okay or tried to fix things for me. She simply listened, occasionally asking questions and giving me advice that helped me sort out my own feelings.

I let out a long sigh. I could really use some of Maggie’s wisdom right now. But I hadn’t seen her in nearly three months. She had always arrived for market week the day before the crowds showed up. But she had missed the last two months and the riverboat she lived on and used to sell her wares up and down the Cumberland River had not been moored at the dock yesterday when I had left work, so I wasn’t expecting her again. I was worried about her and had asked around if any of the other traveling merchants had seen her but none had. I feared something bad had happened to her, but I had no cancel way to find out.

She lived on her boat, but she did have a home base. I knew it was a small community based in the mountains, but I didn’t know the name of the town or where it was located exactly, and neither had anyone else I had asked.

Over the past two months I had asked many traveling merchants if they knew anything about Maggie’s whereabouts, but none of them had heard anything. I’d been able to ask the leaders of a couple of Nomad clans that had passed through the market at various times over the past couple of months, but none of them traveled in the mountain areas Maggie frequented and didn’t know of her. There were dozens of Nomad clans that traveled around the Appalachian Peninsula. They knew more about the people and towns outside of the official city-states then anyone.

I thought suddenly occurred to me.  I jumped to my feet, a new determination spurring me. I had seen Miss Leonie’s caravan setting up camp on the far side of the market lot yesterday afternoon.  Miss Leonie was the leader of a Nomad clan and she and Maggie were close friends.  The three of us often had morning tea together, and sometimes dinner around Miss Leonie’s fire, or on Maggie’s boat.   Even if Miss Leonie didn’t know anything about Maggie, it would be wonderful to visit with my old friend.

Jumping to my feet I quickly went about my morning chores of watering the garden and picking out any fresh produce or herbs ready to take to the market stall to sell.

The rooftop garden was separated into two parts.  The upper roof which consisted mainly of potted fruit trees, none of which had any ripe fruit, and flowering herbs, roof that covered the back of the building which was only two stories high, two stories lower than the main part of the building. Pinky and I had built two glass hot-houses and a small drying shed on the lower half. Most of the vegetables for my market shop grew in the hot-houses and I dried herbs for teas and tisanes in the drying shed.  Despite the size and different levels of the garden, watering the plants was quick and easy.  A water pump was installed on the main roof and with just a few pumps I sent water out to the entire garden via a system of hoses.  In the hot-houses the water would spray down like a gentle rain.  I skipped the vegetable roundup because I’d gathered everything the day before, but made a quick stop in the drying shed to mix together Miss Leonie’s favorite tisane blend. 

Back downstairs in the small apartment I shared with Farrah, I took a quick sponge bath and put on a clean dress, tied my hair back in a smooth braid, and donned my favorite sandals.  I stuffed a fresh apron, the tea packets, and my money belt into my canvas bag, grabbed my straw hat, and headed downstairs.

It was and hour before dawn and closing time for the pub. On most days only the regulars who played cards and dominoes in the back corner were in the pub this late, but during market week there were usually a few extras.  While most of the traveling merchants and out of town shoppers camped around the market grounds, enough rented rooms at the inns and boarding houses that lived near the river docks to make extra business for the bars and restaurants that lined Broadway.  This morning was typical of the beginning of market week.  Travelers who’d made it in to the city during the wee hours and stopped in for a drink filled several tables, but the pub was still mostly quiet and subdued. 

Pinky, tall and thin and perpetually twenty-two, stood behind the bar drying glasses and talking to a tall red-head sitting on the other side of the bar.

“Anya,” I said, sliding up to my sister and giving her a quick hug. “You let your hair go back red.”

She shook her ponytail.  “Yeah, it got to be too much work keeping it short and colored.  I don’t have time to get the color recharged every month, much less get it cut every few weeks.  It makes training easier just to keep it long and pulled back.  Besides, I’m over all that.”

“You’re rambling,” I told her. Despite my curiosity, I knew asking what exactly she was over would be a mistake.  She could only be referring to the incident a little over a year ago when she’d nearly been killed by a rogue Blade agent.

She yawned.  “I know. It’s tired rambles.  You know, I thought being a vampire meant I would have more energy.”

Pinky shook his head, laughing.  “Baby girl, you have more energy than any ten vampires.  But even a vampire has to eat regularly and get at least a few hours rest every night.  When’s the last time you had more than an hour of sleep in a row?”

Rolling her eyes, Anya said, “I’ve just been training over-time to get the Tribunal to agree to let me train full-time with the Blade Cadets now that I’m done with the Academy and am officially a City Guard.”

“And that gives you more resting time, how?  According to Sam, the Tribunal agreed to the arrangement only if you work full-time hours with the City Guard and maintain a position no lower than second in the Blades class, both academically and physically.” Farrah said, coming into the conversation as she brought more glasses in from the back room.

Anya shot her a mock-angry look.  “You’re not helping.”

Farah grinned and stuck her tongue out.  

“Don’t worry, she’s going to get some rest if I have to tie her to the bed,” a deep voice said.

We all turned our gaze to see Fiona’s boyfriend, Luca, slide onto the stool on the other side of her.

Pinky cringed.  “I don’t need to hear that kind of thing.” He said in mock-horror.

“Me either, yuck,” I chimed in, giving my body a shudder and making gagging noises.

When the laughter died down Pinky turned his focus to me.  “You’re up early. Did you sleep okay?”

“Yeah,” I lied.  “I saw Miss Leonie’s caravan roll into town last night as I was leaving the market and I want to have some tea and visit with her a little while before getting to work.”

Pinky’s narrow eyed expression told me he knew I wasn’t being honest, but he didn’t call me on it.  “Okay, want something to eat before you go?”

I shook my head.  “Nah, I’ll grab something at the market later.  Or, if I time it just right, I’ll be just in time to enjoy some of her delicious corn cakes.”

Pinky leaned over and kissed me on the forehead.  “Okay, have a good day.”

“Will do.”

I said my goodbyes to the rest of the crowd and headed out.

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