Flora's Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room)

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9780152054038: Flora's Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room)

Flora Fyrdraaca wants nothing more than to be a ranger, and for that she must master the magickal—and dangerous—language of Gramatica. But before she can find the ideal teacher, her aspirations are put to the test. Would a true ranger be intimidated by a tentacle that reaches for her from the depths of a toilet? Be daunted by her best friend’s transformation into a notorious outlaw, thanks to a pair of sparkly stolen boots? Be cowed by the revelation that only she can rescue the city of Califa from the violent earthquakes that threaten its survival?
            Never. Saving her city and her best friend are the least a Girl of Spirit can do—yet what Flora doesn’t expect are the life-altering revelations she learns about her family and herself.

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About the Author:

Ysabeau S. Wilce is the author of Flora Segunda, Flora's Dare, and Flora's Fury, and she has also published work in Asimov's Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Tiptree Award, and Flora's Dare won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Trained as a military historian, she claims to have turned to fiction when the truth no longer compared favorably to the shining lies of her imagination. She lives in San Francisco with her family. Visit her website at www.yswilce.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE

Dirty Dishes.

A Brief Recap. Woe
.

Finally, the term was over and two weeks of freedom loomed. Two weeks of freedom from Sanctuary School, that is. There was no escape from Poppy.

"I think," I said, sorrowfully, "that I liked Poppy better when he was drunk." My back hurt from leaning over the sink, and the dishwater was now cold and greasy. Happily, I was on the last pan. It was crusty and black, but it was the last. The last pan, the last chore, and then, I would be free for the first night of term break.

"There is no pleasing some people," Valefor replied from his vaporous perch high on top of the kitchen dresser. Valefor was the one who should have been doing the dishes, and everything else as well. Thanks to his banishment, he was a mere wisp, and his helpfulness was limited to criticism, which I did not find helpful in the slightest. And he had to lay low, too. If Mamma discovered him flitting about, he would be in a World of Hurt.

Valefor continued. "You complained when Hotspur was drunk and wallowing all the time; now he’s straight as straight, and you complain about that, too, Flora Segunda."

I put the last pan in the dish drainer, then straightened up, feeling a hundred years old, and as though I’d been washing up for ninety of those years. It was only Mamma, Poppy, and me at home, yet somehow we were generating enough dirty dishes for an entire regiment. Poppy’s fault, really; he was cooking meals big enough for an entire regiment, even though Mamma ate only breakfast at home, I ate dinner at Sanctuary School, and it was usually just Poppy and me for supper.

"I never thought he’d turn out to be such a tyrant," I said. "He’s a hundred times worse than Mamma. At least Mamma isn’t around enough to crawl down your throat. Poppy never leaves the house. He’s always here. There’s no escaping. Flynnie, get out of there."

At my gentle kick, Flynn slunk away from the garbage can, looking dejected, as though he’d never been fed before in his life. Which was, of course, false, as he’d not only already had dinner, but had licked the plates before I washed them—saves on the scrubbing, you know.

"Hotspur is overcompensating," Valefor explained. "He always goes too far. When he was brave, he was the bravest ever. When he was in love, you’d have thought no one had ever loved so much. When he was crazy, no lunatic ever howled so loud. And now that he’s sober, he’s so straight you could rule your paper with him."

"Can’t he just be somewhere in the comfy middle?" I pulled the plug and let the nasty water glug out of the sink. There, that was it. Punto finale for Flora and the dishes. Punto finale for my last chore of the day. And not a moment too soon. The kitchen clock was about to chime eight. If I didn’t get a move on it, I was going to be late meeting Udo, and I hate being late. The only thing that it’s good to be late for, said Nini Mo, is your own funeral.

"No Fyrdraaca ever sat in the comfy middle," Val pronounced. "We are all about the razor-thin edge of extreme. It’s our family hallmark."

"Ha," I said, sourly, for he was certainly right there.

"Anyway, you wanted things to change, and they did. So stop complaining."

"Ha." Even more sourly, for he was right there, as well.

My Catorcena—my fourteenth birthday whereon I became officially an adult—was three months past, and things had changed, and yet nothing at all changed, really. Of course, I hadn’t expected miracles—I wasn’t that childish, even at my most optimistic—but immediately after my birthday celebration, things had looked mighty promising.

Take Poppy, for example. During the Huitzil War, Poppy had been a prisoner, and almost executed for war crimes. At the end of the War, Mamma ransomed him, but Poppy came home sick, crazy, and a drunk. And so he had remained until finally he had promised to try to forget the woes of the past and stay sober.

He had kept his promise. But Poppy sober was almost as bad as Poppy drunk, only in an entirely different way. Drunk Poppy was a lunatic. Sober Poppy was a tyrant. A martinet. What in the Army they call a whip. What I call a giant huge pain in my hinder.

Sober Poppy had turned Crackpot Hall into an Army camp. There was Reveille (Get Up), Mess Call (Get to Breakfast), Assembly (Inspection before Leaving the House), Drill Call (Do Your Homework), Guard Mount (Take the Dogs Out), Inspection (Is Your Room Clean?), Reinspection (What Did I Tell You about Dusting?), Tattoo (Time for Bed), and Retreat (Lights Out). I was surprised that Poppy didn’t actually get a bugle and stand on the stairs sounding the calls. Maybe he just hadn’t thought of that yet.

Poppy had become a despot who skulked around the house, his face like a block of carved ice. I don’t think Poppy actually slept; he just stayed up all night polishing and dusting, scrubbing or sweeping. Crackpot was still decrepit, but now at least it was clean.

And cooking. When Poppy was a souse, I would not have pegged him to have much interest in cooking, but now, next to cleaning, cooking was all he did. He made bread and cakes, pies and cookies. Stews and soups, gelées and galantines, roasts and chops, tortillas and tortas. The pantry was full of food, the icebox was full of food, Mamma was full of food, I was full of food, Udo was full of food, even the dogs were full of food. Only Poppy was not full of food; I never saw him eat a single thing.

All I had wanted was order. Instead, I got tyranny.

Mamma, of course, was exempt from Poppy’s discipline, as she outranked him, but I had no choice but to hop to. My only relief was school; never before had I been so happy to escape to Sanctuary each morning, and I loitered there in the afternoon as long as possible. But eventually I had to go home.

The only bright side to Poppy’s behavior was that it was doing a great job of reminding me that I did not want to follow the Fyrdraaca family tradition. Fyrdraacas attend Benica Barracks Military Academy and then go into the Army. As far back as anyone can remember, this is so: Mamma went, Poppy went, my sister Idden went—even the Fyrdraaca dogs have gone. Fyrdraacas are soldiers. It’s our family rule.

What has soldierly duty gotten this family? Mamma is Commanding General of the Army of Califa and everyone thinks she’s a great hero for saving Califa from the Birdies, as we call the Huitzils. Thanks to Mamma’s peace accord, we are a client state instead of a conquered one. But she’s a slave to duty; she’s hardly ever home, spends all her time pushing paperwork, handling the Warlord, bowing to the Birdie Ambassador, trying to keep the Republic together.

Poppy was aide-de-camp to the Butcher Brakespeare, the commanding general before Mamma, and narrowly escaped being executed with her. Instead he spent three years in a Birdie prison, where he was abused and tortured. He came home a broken drunken wreck. That’s how soldierly duty worked out for him.

My older sister, Idden, is what they call a paper--collar soldier—in other words, perfect. She graduated first in her class at Benica Barracks, she’s made captain after only six years out of the Barracks, and may well be commanding general herself one of these days. But now she’s posted to Fort Jones in Trinity Territory, where you could die of boredom and it would take the news two weeks to reach civilization. Now that Califa is a client state, the Army just sits and does nothing.

And my other sister, the First Flora. Flora Primera wasn’t a soldier, just a six-year-old girl when she was captured with the Butcher and Poppy. When the Butcher was executed and Poppy imprisoned, the Birdies took Flora Primera—and Mamma could never find out what had happened to her. Perhaps the Birdies sacrificed her to one of their bloodthirsty gods. Maybe they ate her, like they ate the Butcher Brakespeare. Maybe they fostered her to a Birdie family and now she’s forgotten all about Califa. Flora Primera wasn’t even a soldier, but she was sacrificed for Fyrdraaca soldierly duty.

That leaves me, Flora Segunda. I have no intention of wasting my life on soldierly duty.

I had finally gotten my nerve up to tell Mamma that I did not want to go to Benica Barracks, and that was some nerve, let me tell you, because Mamma is used to being obeyed. To my surprise, Mamma had not exploded at my impudence. Instead, she had promised that she would consider my desire and we would discuss it further.

Except Mamma never took the time to consider or discuss. Immediately after my Catorcena she’d gone off to Arivaipa Territory on a three-month inspection; she’d only just returned and already the redboxes were piling up in the office, full of paperwork she had missed while she was gone. I had hardly had a minute alone with her since she’d gotten back. When she wasn’t at Headquarters, she was with the Warlord, and when she wasn’t with the Warlord, she was in her study, surrounded by redboxes and her aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Sabre, while various other staff officers tramped in and out, making personal conversation with Mamma impossible.

I hadn’t yet mentioned to Mamma my specific ranger ambitions; I thought I would take things one at a time. Did Nini Mo wait for her mother’s permission before following her Will? She did not. Nini Mo’s mamma, a wer-coyotl of great power, encouraged her in all ways, but even if she hadn’t, that wouldn’t have stopped Nini Mo. She followed her own Will and let no one stand against her.

I wiped down the table again and took a last look around the kitchen. I didn’t want to give Poppy any excuse to confine me to my room. So far, I’d been confined for not polishing my boots, for coming to breakfast with my jacket unbuttoned, for giving Poppy an insolent look when he suggested that I run up and down Fyrdraaca Hill several times for exercise, and for not standing up when he entered the kitchen. (Was he my commanding officer? No, but I’m your elder deserving of respect, he had said. Respect!) I didn’t have time to be confined tonight.

Tonight I had plans.

 

Copyright © 2008 by Ysabeau S. Wilce

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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