City of Flowers (Stravaganza Series #3)by Mary Hoffman
The latest story in the Stravaganza series unravels amid ever-more-dangerous politics and intrigue. Sky, a new Stravagante, is whisked away from his dreary life in London to Giglia, the Talian version of Florence. Featuring favorite characters from the first two titles in the series, including Georgia and Falco, as well as a host of exciting new characters, this breathtaking adventure will not disappoint.
But beware - in the beautiful City of Flowers, much that seems beautiful is in fact poisonous...
Barbara L. Talcroft
Read an Excerpt
City of Flowers
By Mary Hoffman Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Copyright © 2006 Mary Hoffman
All right reserved.
The Marriage with the Sea
Light streamed on to the Duchessa's satin bedcovers as her serving-woman flung open the shutters.
'It's a beautiful day, Your Grace,' said the young woman, adjusting her mask of green sequins.
'It's always a beautiful day on the lagoon,' said the Duchessa, sitting up and letting the maid put a wrapper round her shoulders and hand her a cup of hot chocolate. She was wearing her night-mask of black silk. She looked closely at the young woman. 'You're new, aren't you?'
'Yes, your Grace,' she curtsied. 'And if I may say so, what an honour it is to be serving you on such a great day!'
She'll be clapping her hands next, thought the Duchessa, sipping the dark chocolate.
The maid clasped her hands ecstatically. 'Oh your Grace, you must so be looking forward to the Marriage!'
'Oh, yes,' said the Duchessa wearily. 'I look forward to it just the same every year.'
* * *
The boat rocked precariously as Arianna stepped in, clutching her large canvas bag.
'Careful!' grumbled Tommaso, who was handing his sister into the boat. 'You'll capsize us. Why do you need so much stuff?'
'Girls need a lot of things,' Arianna answered firmly, knowing that Tommasothought everything female a great mystery.
'Even for one day?' asked Angelo, her other brother.
'Today's going to be a long one,' Arianna said even more firmly and that was the end of it.
She settled in one end of the boat gripping her bag on her knees, while her brothers started rowing with the slow sure strokes of fishermen who spent their lives on the water. They had come from their own island, Merlino, to collect her from Torrone and take her to the biggest lagoon festival of the year. Arianna had been awake since dawn.
Like all lagooners, she had been going to the Marriage with the Sea since she was a small child, but this year she had a special reason for being excited. She had a plan. And the things she had in her heavy bag were part of it.
* * *
'I'm so sorry about your hair,' said Lucien's mother, biting her lip as she restrained herself from her usual comfort gesture of running her hand across his curly head. The curls weren't there any more and she didn't know how to comfort him, or herself.
'It's all right, Mum,' said Lucien. 'I'll be in fashion. Lots of boys at school even shave theirs off.'
They didn't mention that he wasn't well enough to go to school. But it was true that he didn't mind too much about the hair. What really bothered him was the tiredness. It wasn't like anything he had ever felt before. It wasn't like being knackered after a good game of football or swimming fifty lengths. It had been a long time since he'd been able to do either of those.
It was like having custard in your veins instead of blood, getting exhausted just trying to sit up in bed. Like drinking half a cup of tea and finding it as difficult as climbing Everest.
'It doesn't affect everyone so badly,' the nurse had said. 'Lucien's one of the unlucky ones. But it has no relation to how well the treatment is working.'
That was the trouble. Feeling as drained and exhausted as he did, Lucien couldn't tell whether it was the treatment or the disease itself that was making him feel so terrible. And he could tell that his parents didn't know either. That was one of the scariest things, seeing them so frightened. It seemed as if his mother's eyes filled with tears every time she looked at him.
And as for Dad - Lucien's father had never talked to him properly before he became ill, but they had got on pretty well. They used to do things together - swimming, going to the match, watching TV. It was when they couldn't do anything together any more that Dad started really talking to him.
He even brought library books into the bedroom and read to him, because Lucien didn't have the strength to hold a book in his hands. Lucien liked that. Books that he knew already, like The Hobbit and Tom's Midnight Garden, were followed by ones that Dad remembered from his boyhood and youth, like Moonfleet and the James Bond novels.
Lucien lapped them all up. Dad found a new skill in inventing different voices for all the characters. Sometimes Lucien thought it had been almost worth being ill, to find this new, different Dad, who talked to him and told him stories. He wondered if he would turn back into the old Dad if the treatment worked and the illness went away. But such thoughts made Lucien's head ache.
After his most recent chemotherapy, Lucien was too tired to talk. And his throat hurt. That evening Dad brought him in a notebook with thin pages and a beautiful marbled cover, in which dark reds and purples swirled together in a way that made Lucien need to close his eyes.
'I couldn't find anything nice enough in WH Smith,' Dad was saying. 'But this was a bit of luck. We were clearing out an old house in Waverley Road, next to your school, and the niece said to dump all the papers in the skip. So I saw this and rescued it. It's never been written in and I thought if I left it here on your bedside table, with a pencil, you could write down what you want to say to us when your throat hurts.'
Dad's voice droned on in a comforting background sort of way; he wasn't expecting Lucien to reply. He was saying something about the city where the beautiful notebook had been made but Lucien must have missed a bit, because it didn't quite make sense.
'... floating on the water. You must see it one day, Lucien. When you come across the lagoon and see all those domes and spires hovering over the water, well, it's like going to heaven. All that gold ...'
Dad's voice tailed off. Lucien wondered if he'd thought he'd been tactless mentioning heaven. But he liked Dad's description of the mysterious city - Venice, was it? As his eyelids got heavier and his mind fogged over with the approach of one of his deep sleeps, he felt Dad slip the little notebook into his hand.
And he began to dream of a city floating on the water, laced with canals, and full of domes and spires ...
* * *
Arianna watched the whole procession from her brothers' boat. They had the day off work, like everyone else on the lagoon islands, except the cooks. No one worked on the day of the Sposalizio who didn't have to, but so many revellers had to be fed.
'There it is!' shouted Tommaso suddenly. 'There's the Barcone!'
Arianna stood up in the boat, causing it to rock again, and strained her eyes towards the mouth of the Great Canal. In the far distance she could just see the scarlet and silver of the Barcone. Other people had seen the ceremonial barge too and soon the cheers and whistles spread across the water as the Duchessa made her stately way to her Marriage with the Sea.
The barge was rowed by a crew of the city's best mandoliers, those handsome young men who sculled the mandolas round the canals that took the place of streets in most of Bellezza. They were what Arianna particularly wanted to see.
As the Duchessa's barge drew level with Tommaso and Angelo's boat, Arianna gazed at the muscles of the black-haired, bright-eyed mandoliers and sighed. But not from love.
'Viva la Duchessa!' cried her brothers, waving their hats in the air, and Arianna dragged her eyes from the rowers to the figure standing immobile on the deck. The Duchessa was an impressive sight. She was tall, with long dark hair, coiled up on the top of her head in a complicated style, which was entwined with white flowers and precious gems. Her dress was of thin dark blue taffeta, shot with green and silver, so that she glittered in the sunlight like a mermaid.
Of her face there was little to be seen. As usual she wore a mask. Today's was made of peacock feathers, as shimmering and iridescent as her dress. Behind her stood her waiting-women, all masked, though more simply dressed, holding cloaks and towels.
'It is a miracle,' said Angelo. 'She never looks a day olden Twenty-five years now she has ruled over us and ensured our happiness and yet she still has the figure of a girl.'
Arianna snorted. 'You don't know what she looked like twenty-five years ago,' she said. 'You haven't been coming to the Marriage that long.'
'Nearly,' said Tommaso. 'Our parents first brought me when I was five and that was twenty years ago. And she did look just the same then, little sister. It is miraculous.' And he made the sign that lagooners use for luck - touching the thumb of the right hand to the little finger and placing the middle fingers first on brow and then on breast.
'And I came two years later,' added Angelo, frowning at Arianna. He had noticed a rebellious tendency in her where the Duchessa was concerned.
Arianna sighed again. She had first seen the Marriage when she was five, too. Ten years of watching and waiting. But this year was different. She was going to get what she wanted tomorrow or die in the attempt - and that was not just a figure of speech.
The barge had reached the shore of the island of Sant'Andrea, where the church's High Priest was waiting to hand the Duchessa out on to the red carpet that had been thrown over the shingle. She stepped down as lightly as a girl, followed by her entourage of women. From where they were on the water, Arianna and her brothers had a good view of the slim blue-green figure with the stars in her hair.
The mandoliers rested on their oars, sweating, as the music of the band on the shore floated over the water. At the climax of silver trumpets, two young priests reverently lowered the Duchessa into the sea from a special platform. Her beautiful dress floated around her in the water as she sank gently; the priests' shoulder-muscles bulged with the strain of keeping the ceremony slow and dignified.
As soon as the water lapped the top of the Duchessa's thighs, a loud cry of 'Sposati' went up from all the watchers. Drums and trumpets were sounded and everyone waved and cheered, as the Duchessa was lifted out of the water again and surrounded by her women. For a split second everyone saw her youthful form as the thin wet dress clung to her. The dress would never be worn again.
'What a waste,' thought Arianna.
* * *
Inside the State Cabin of the barge another woman echoed her thought. The real Duchessa, already dressed in the rich red velvet dress and silver mask that was required for the Marriage feast, stretched and yawned.
'What fools these Bellezzans are!' she said to her two attendants. 'They all think I have the figure of a girl - and I do. What's her name this time?'
'Giuliana, Your Grace,' said one of them. 'Here she comes!'
A bedraggled and sneezing girl, not now looking much like a duchess, was half carried down the stairway to the cabin by the waiting-women.
'Get her out of those wet things,' ordered the Duchessa. 'That's better. Rub her hard with the towel. And you, take the diamonds out of her hair.' The Duchessa patted her own elaborate coiffure, which was the exact duplicate of the wet girl's.
Giuliana's face, though pleasant enough, was very ordinary. The Duchessa smiled behind her mask to think that the people had been so easily deceived.
'Well done, Giuliana,' she said to the shivering girl, who was trying to curtsey. 'A fine impersonation.' She glanced at the amulet on a chain round the girl's neck. A hand, with the three middle fingers extended and the thumb and little finger joined. It was the islanders' good luck token, the manus fortunae - hand of Fortune - signifying the unity of the circle and the figures of the goddess, her consort and son, the sacred trinity of the lagoon. But it was doubtful that this child knew that. The Duchessa wrinkled her nose, not at the symbolism but at the tawdriness of the cheap gold version of it.
Giuliana was soon warm and dry, wrapped in a warm woollen robe and given a silver goblet of ruby red wine. She had taken off the peacock mask, which would be preserved, along with the salt-stained dress, along with twenty-four others in the Palazzo.
'Thank you, Your Grace,' said the girl, glad to feel the iciness of the lagoon's embrace receding from her legs.
'A barbarous custom,' said the Duchessa, 'but the people must be indulged. Now, you have heard and understood the conditions?'
'Yes, Your Grace.'
'I must never tell anyone how I went into the water instead of Your Grace.'
'And if you do?'
'If I do - which I wouldn't, milady - I will be banished from Bellezza.'
'You and your family. Banished for ever. Not that anyone would believe you; there would be no proof.' The Duchessa glanced, steely-eyed, at her waiting-women, who were all utterly dependent on her for their living.
'And in return for your silence, and the loan of your fresh young body, I give you your dowry. Over the ages many young girls have been so rewarded for lending their bodies to their betters. You are more fortunate than most. Your virtue is intact - except for a slight incursion of sea water.'
The women dutifully laughed, as they did every year. Giuliana blushed. She had the suspicion that the Duchessa was talking dirty, but that didn't seem right for someone so important. She was longing to get home to her family and show them the money. And to tell her fianci they could now afford to be married. One of the waiting-women had finished undoing her hair and was now briskly braiding it into a coil around her head.
* * *
Tommaso and Angelo rowed behind the Barcone as it travelled slowly back across the lagoon to Bellezza, the biggest island. On deck the Duchessa stood in a red velvet dress with a black cloak thrown over it, which blurred the lines of her figure. The setting sun glinted off her silver mask. She now matched the colours of the Barcone, was one with her vessel and the sea. The prosperity of the city was assured for another year.
And now it was time for feasting. The Piazza Maddalena, in front of the great cathedral, was filled with stalls selling food. The savoury smells made Arianna's mouth water. Every imaginable shape of pasta was on sale, with sauces piquant with peppers and sweet with onions. Roasted meats and grilled vegetables, olives, cheeses, bright red radishes, dark green bitter salad. Shining fish doused with oil and lemon, pink prawns and crabs and mounds of saffron rice and juicy wild mushrooms. Soups and stews simmered in huge cauldrons and terracotta bowls were filled with potatoes roasted in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and spikes of rosemary.
'Rosmarino - rose of the sea!' sighed Angelo, licking his lips. 'Come, let's eat.'
Excerpted from Stravaganza by Mary Hoffman Copyright © 2006 by Mary Hoffman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Mary Hoffman is the author of the first two Stravaganza books, City of Masks and City of Stars, as well as more than eighty other books for children. For the Stravaganza series, Mary traveled to Italy many times to research the history of each setting. Mary has three grown daughters and lives with her husband in Oxfordshire, England.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I like the suspense action and everything in it
This is the kind of book which sweeps you up and makes you live in the story for days after you read it. After the first two books in the series it is no disappointment. It's exactly what teenagers need!
this book was AMAZING! it was so fast paced, exciting, and sweet, but its just killing me to wait and see if another one is coming out! i love all the stravagante and the extravagent weddings and old world italy and just EVERYTHING!
This book is superbly written. I have read alot of books but this one is the best. The book is about Sky, a boy whose dad is famous and whose mom is very ill. He then is sent to the world of Taila, the counter part of Italy. There he makes many new friends. In our world he also makes friends with past Stravaganti the people who move between worlds. This book also finished nicely- all the loose ends of the last two books are tied, and it has all the old main characters in it.
This book is about Sky Meadows, who becomes a Stravagante, and gets to meet all our favorite characters from the previous books. The DiChimici and Nuccio are still at war with each other, but this time, the dispute is so violent, there is actually blood shed! I hate cliff hangers, though, and this ending certainly has kept me anxiously awaiting the next book...
I loved this book. It was by far the best in the series. But I absolutely hate the character Georgia, so this was obviously much better in my opinion than the last one. But anyway, this book was a tad bit confusing, with all the jumps between Sky, Georgia, Luciano, and the diChimicis, but I HEART these books!!!!!!!
I loved this book! the series is really amazing, i especially liked that this book included the other characters we liked in the 1st and 2nd book.This book is about Sky a teen who is overwhelmed with his life and needs a break.Relif comes in the form of a perfume bottle.From then on the action and mystery unfold to makethe greatest Stravaganza yet!!!!
It was a well written book and a good sequel to the first to books. I am a bit disappointed with the ending because I believe *some* characters have now faded out of the series. Arianna's and Luciano's roles are very satisfying and we are introduced to several new staravante. All in all a good book! visit the Stravaganza website: www.stravaganza.co.uk
this is such a great book and i cant stop reading it im half way done and its so fun! so get this book and all the others in this sieries!