Chapter no 13 – We Look for Dead Stuff at the Farmers’ Market

The Chalice of the Gods

Grover was thrilled.

Blanche is coming?” He patted his goat horns as if to make sure they

weren’t crooked. “Do I look okay?”

He wore cargo shorts with tennis shoes over his hooves—just enough of a disguise so humans would think That kid needs to shave his legsand not That kid is half goat. His top du jour was a hand-knit green sweater-type thing with little tree designs that I was pretty sure the dryads had made him for Arbor Day.

“You look good,” I said.

“Besides, Grover,” Annabeth chided, “this is Blanche. It’s not like she’s your girlfriend.”

Grover had a girlfriend, Juniper, who would not have been pleased to see Grover acting so flustered.

“No, I know.” He blushed to the roots of his goatee. “It’s just that she’s such an artiste.”

“Not this again,” I muttered. “She’s so cool!”

“Are we talking about the same Blanche?” I asked.

“Both of you hush.” Annabeth peered down Broadway. “Here she comes now.”

Blanche, daughter of Iris, wore a trench coat the color of night, jeans, and tactical boots, all of which matched the makeup that made her eyes sparkle like black diamonds. Her head was shaved except for a white-blond topknot. Around her neck hung a Nikon camera the size of a shoe box.

“Wow,” she said, looking around. “Uptown.”

She squinted as if she found the Upper West Side too bright, too open, too loud, too everything. Living down in Soho, she probably had to get her passport stamped to come this far north.

“Lots of stuff to photograph!” Grover said, leaning not-so-casually against a mailbox to give her a profile angle.

Blanche seemed more interested in the sick little tree on the median. “This is dying. That’s cool.” She took the lens cap off her Nikon and started to play with the focus.

Annabeth and I exchanged looks.

Really? I asked her silently.

Be patient ,she stared back at me.

I’d heard that Blanche had a one-artist show going on at a Tribeca gallery right now. Her photographs of dried leaves, rotten tree stumps, and roadkill—all in black and white—sold for like a thousand bucks each. She was the Ansel Adams of dead nature. And after our last campfire, Grover had been so impressed with her that he’d decided he wanted her to do his portrait as a present for Juniper.

What happened at our last campfire, you ask?

Ghost stories. It was a tradition. To everybody’s surprise, Blanche had volunteered to tell the last one that night. In front of sixty or seventy campers and holding a flashlight under her face for maximum creepiness, Blanche had launched into a story about this demigod who had died years ago—a son of Morbus, the god of diseases. Supposedly, nobody liked this kid at camp because, well, diseases. Eventually he had wasted away from some terrible plague, but before he died, he laid a curse on the camp so that anyone who walked over his grave would lose all their color, develop a painful rotting sickness, then crumble to nothing. The campers had burned his body and scattered his ashes, trying to avoid the curse.

“But it didn’t matter,” Blanche had told us. “Because the place where he was burned counted as his gravesite. And that gravesite . . . is right here!”

Then she’d turned her flashlight on us. We’d looked around, startled and half-blind, and realized that all our colors had faded. The entire crowd had turned monochrome like old black-and-white cartoons.

There was screaming. There was crying and running in circles. And that was just me. Some of the other demigods got really freaked out, which is not good when you’re in a crowd of kids armed with swords.

Meanwhile, Blanche had snapped pictures of us, the flash on her Nikon making a strobe-light effect that only increased the panic.

Finally, our activities director, Chiron, managed to restore order. He’d explained that Blanche had simply drawn all the surrounding colors into herself—a trick that some Iris kids could do. The monochrome effect would pass, and no, we would not die. He’d glared at Blanche, asking her to apologize. She’d just thanked us for the fun evening and strolled away into the dark. For some reason, this made her an artistic genius in Grover’s eyes.

Now Annabeth was relying on her to help us. “Thanks for coming,” Annabeth told her.

“Eh.” Blanche snapped another shot. “You made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Let’s go find Mommy Dearest.”

I glanced at Annabeth, wondering what she’d promised Blanche and if it involved selling our internal organs. Annabeth just smirked. Then we followed Blanche into the chaos of the farmers’ market.

The day was sunny and mild, so the crowds were out in force. Shoppers milled between rows of produce stands, rummaging through baskets of berries and artichokes. The whole plaza smelled of warm tomatoes and onions. Vendors sold milk, eggs, cheese, honey—all from local farms. It was surreal to have all this country-fresh stuff in the middle of Manhattan, but I guess that was part of the appeal. Grover’s nose quivered as he passed the vegetables. I was glad he wasn’t a child of Hermes, because I was pretty sure he was tempted to pickpocket some of the rutabagas.

He traipsed along next to Blanche, trying to engage her in conversation. Occasionally he’d throw himself into her line of vision, posing in different dramatic angles, draping himself across tables of vegetables like a lounge singer on a piano. She just ignored him, stopping every once in a while to photograph a dying dandelion or ragweed growing between the cracks in the pavement.

“Relax,” Annabeth told me. “You’re grinding your teeth.” “Am not,” I said, though I totally was.

She took my hand. “Enjoy the day. Maybe later I’ll let you buy me lunch.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better,” I said, though it totally did.

As we got deeper into the market, the stalls started to offer stuff that didn’t have much to do with farms. A leatherworker was hawking hand-tooled pouches, wallets, and knife sheaths. (Is there a big market for knife

sheaths uptown?) A soap maker offered cruelty-free soap, because nothing is worse than showering with cruel soap. An incense maker displayed a thousand different kinds of smelly stuff to burn.

I was starting to see why a goddess might want to hang out at a farmers’ market. Gods loved burnt offerings. They could live on fragrances the way I could live on my mom’s seven-layer dip. And this farmers’ market was a smorgasbord of smells.

Blanche stopped suddenly. “Okay, there’s my mom.” She pointed down the aisle, past a linen-towel salesman and a display of macramé plant hangers.

And there was Iris.

She looked nothing like I remembered. That didn’t surprise me. Gods can change their appearance the way mortals change clothes. Today, Iris was a plump, grandmotherly woman with long gray hair and a flowing purple-and-white muumuu decorated with . . . well, iris flowers.

Something about the goddess’s presence raised the hairs on my arms. My survival instincts were screaming, Run! She will offer you granola!

Her booth was decorated with thousands of crystals—some hanging from embroidered cords, some set in bronze holders, all flashing in the sunlight and sending a riot of rainbows across the market. I imagined all of them containing Iris-messages and getting jumbled together as the wrong quests were distributed to the wrong demigods . . . which actually would explain a lot. Maybe my entire career had been a series of Iris-message butt dials.

“Just relax,” Blanche told us. “Let me do the talking.”

“As long as I look all right,” Grover said, turning his face to the sun in his best impression of a dying wildflower.

Blanche paid him no mind. She marched up to the booth with us in her wake.

Iris’s eyes lit up as we got closer. “My dear, what a lovely surprise! And you brought . . . friends!”

She said the word friends as if it were completely illogical when paired with Blanche, like lobster sandals.

“They’re fellow campers,” Blanche said. “They wanted to meet you.”

Iris looked us over. Her eyes were multicolored, like oil on water. I smiled and tried to look friendly, but I couldn’t tell whether she recognized me.

“How wonderful,” Iris said noncommittally. Her mouth tugged down at the corners as she examined her daughter. “And I see you’re still wearing all black. Didn’t you like the scarf I sent you?”

“Yeah, it was great,” Blanche said. “The pink hummingbirds were totally my style.”

Iris winced. “And I don’t suppose . . .” She gestured at the camera. “I don’t suppose you have started using color film?”

“Black and white is better,” Blanche said.

Iris seemed to be trying to smile while a dagger was being twisted into her gut. “I see.”

I was beginning to doubt Annabeth’s plan. It seemed like we were about to get dragged into some mother-daughter drama that would not help our quest. I imagined getting cursed by Iris and leaving the market with my hair permanently blue and my skin decorated with pink hummingbirds.

“So, anyway,” Blanche continued, “you said you’d be happy to do me a favor?”

Iris’s eyes widened. “Yes, of course, my dear! A new dress? A better camera? A trip to see the northern lights?”

The goddess sounded weirdly desperate to please. It occurred to me that Blanche had found a novel strategy to get a godly parent’s attention: complete indifference. It pained Iris to see her child so obsessed with monochrome.

I wondered if that approach would work for me. If I moved to the Sahara Desert and feigned a hatred for water, would Poseidon start shipping me presents: fish tanks, swimming pools, brochures for ocean cruises . . . ?

Nah, probably not.

“I want you to listen to them,” Blanche said, jabbing a thumb in our direction. “They’re going to sound like they’re accusing you of theft.”

Iris went dangerously still. “Excuse me?”

“But they just want information. Don’t zap them. Don’t curse them.

Just . . . try to help them, okay? That’s the favor.”

Iris studied us more carefully. I tried to look unworthy of zapping.

Finally, the goddess sighed. “Very well, dear. For you.” Her voice took on a sweeter, slightly pleading tone. “And then maybe we could do something together? Binge WandaVision?”

“Sounds great, Ma. I’ll message you.” Blanche turned to us. “I’m outta here, then. Good luck. And remember our deal.”

Annabeth nodded. “Grover will be there.” Grover yelped. “Be where?”

“My studio.” Blanche handed him a business card. “Next week. For a series of still shots. Been trying to line you up forever, but you play hard to get.”

Grover’s jaw dropped down to basement level. Blanche trudged off through the market, no doubt looking for sickly weeds and dead rats to immortalize with her lens.

“Well then,” Iris said to us, “let’s hear what you supposedly think I stole.

And I will do my best to help . . . or at least not kill you.”

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