Deadly Flowers Sample Chapters


Kata is fifteen years old, a girl, and a ninja. By the standards of 16th century Japan, she is nobody and nothing. All she has is her skill, her strength, and her training…until her first mission goes awry, leaving her with a magic talisman in her pocket and two young siblings to protect. She will be chased by samurai, threatened by demons, and hunted by her fellow ninjas, until she makes two choices–what to do, and who to trust. More than her own life will depend on her decision.

I hope you enjoy these two sample chapters from Deadly Flowers. The complete novel will be available from Boyd’s Mill Press in April, 2016.


Chapter One

I was sparring in the practice yard the day the new girl arrived.

Weak. She looked weak, and frail, and modest, and beautiful, and shocked at what she was seeing.

I blocked Masako’s next blow easily—she was as slow as a water buffalo and not much less clumsy—and took a moment to glance around the yard.

Kazuko had just fallen off the pole she was trying to balance on. Aki had graduated to the tightrope and was walking serenely ten feet above our heads. Her sister, Okiko, was scaling a wall, with one of the older girls showing her how to place her feet. The little ones were leaping over bundles of hay, an instructor standing by to smack their bare toes with a bamboo rod if they touched the obstacle.

No one’s toes were touching.

Two of the half-grown girls were trying to find Kiku in the grove of trees by the stream. They would have very little luck there, since she had hidden herself in the well. I hoped she wouldn’t need to empty her bladder before the bell rang to mark the end of this training session.

If she stayed hidden, each of her pursuers would have to give her a portion of rice at dinner. If they found her, she’d have to do the same. Nothing like the prospect of kneeling hungry and watching half your meal disappear into somebody else’s mouth to make you hide craftily or search inside every crack and under every stone.

Masako kicked. I dropped to one knee, seized her heel in one hand and her calf in the other, and flipped her over.

Then, like a fool, I glanced up to make sure the new girl was taking all of this in. If she were to stay, I wanted her to know who was the best in the practice yard.

In the moment when my gaze shifted, Masako surged up from the ground and tackled me, her arms around my waist. It was not an elegant move, but effective.

How many times had we been told? It doesn’t matter how you get your enemy down—just get her down. And be sure she stays there.

I rolled us both in the dirt, grabbed Masako’s hair with one hand, yanked her head back, and braced my forearm across her throat. Her eyes widened as her air was cut off, and an instructor’s voice came from behind me.

“Kata, stop.”

At the sound of his voice, I released the pressure on Masako’s throat, and I heard her breath rush out as we both rolled to our feet. Our teacher tapped me on the shoulder, giving me the victory. Masako bowed her head, swallowed with a slight wince, and silently took her penalty for losing, a single .

She kept quiet. If she’d cried out, it would have been two.

Silence is your greatest ally. Silence and darkness.

I waited, breathing deeply and slowly. If I’d panted out loud, there might have been a stroke with the bamboo rod for me, too.

The girl had come to a stop inside the gate, her hands to her mouth. Her kimono was as blue as the sea, embroidered with black and silver waves. Her hair, glossy with camellia oil, swung all the way down her back. Her face was horrified.


Chapter Two

Behind the girl, a man shut the gate that led to the road. He turned and strode past her. I looked him over quickly, in case I might have to serve him or fight him in the future.

He had loose trousers on beneath a short kimono that came only to mid-thigh. So I knew he had been riding. He also had the two swords of a samurai, one long, one short, thrust through his sash, and a blue dragonfly embroidered on one shoulder. That meant he served one of the Kashihara brothers. Of course, so did most of the warriors for miles around.

When he paused to look back at the girl, I saw that he was missing half of his right ear. The scar ran down his neck and disappeared beneath his collar.

She caught his glance and hurried to catch up.

Obviously the girl was only here as long as the samurai was. It was foolish of me to have thought, even for a moment, that such a frail, frightened creature would be staying at the school. In any case, s

I had been even younger. And I’d been told that I never cried.

I watched the two of them leave their wooden sandals outside the door and enter without knocking. They were expected, then. The samurai must have had some errand with Madame Chiyome, and he’d brought the girl—his daughter, perhaps?—along. Why? Who could tell? Warlords and their warriors do not explain their reasons to the likes of us.

The bell rang for the end of practice. Kiku climbed triumphantly out of the well, and the girls raced inside. I lingered to let them all get ahead of me, and then followed, silently pleased. For some reason I felt satisfaction that the unknown girl had watched me win a bout, Even though the soft, pampered daughter of a rich man had nothing at all to do with me.

So I thought, until I found her that night, in one of the two upper rooms. She was standing with her straw sleeping mat rolled up in her hand, looking as wide-eyed as if a demon had snatched her out of her easy life and dropped her abruptly into the underworld.

“Well?” I said impatiently. “Put it down. Unroll it. You’re staying the night?”

She nodded. Then she shook her head.

“You’re not sleeping here? Then put the mat back. Someone else will need it.”

She shook her head once more.

“You’re staying for good?”

She didn’t nod or shake her head or answer me in any way, and I threw out my hands in exasperation.

“Sleep standing up, then!” I snapped, and left her. She watched blankly as I walked through the room, making sure the four younger girls were settled for the night, kicking their mats straight, sliding the window screen shut to keep out ghosts and evil spirits, telling Aki and Okiko that I’d tie their thumbs into knots behind their backs if I heard them giggling, and ignoring Oichi whining that she was hungry. She would not have been if she hadn’t wasted her time looking for Kiku in the trees. I blew out the flame of the lamp.

When I got back to my own mat, the girl had finally rolled hers out on the floor nearby. She undressed slowly, folding that gorgeous kimono tenderly and placing it in a cupboard. Then she curled herself up into a knot with her knees tucked in and her back to me.

At least she was quiet. Across the hall, someone wasn’t. A miserable wailing rose and fell, like a cold wind sobbing with the voice of a hungry ghost. Little Ozu, probably. Masako should’ve kept her quiet. If Madame, downstairs in her own room, heard . . . Well, it would be better if Madame did not hear.

No one in my room made a sound. The girls knew I wouldn’t allow any noise once the lamp was blown out.

No dreams. I never allowed dreams to pursue me. Just rest, unbroken, until my eyes opened early in the morning, before the other girls were stirring.

But the next morning, the new girl was awake even earlier. She sat upright on her mat, hugging her knees and staring straight ahead.

We might have been close in age, but apart from that we could not have been more different. She was slender, with soft curves to her that were not muscle from hours and hours of sparring. Fair skin that had never sweated under the sun in the practice yard. Tender feet; she couldn’t run barefoot over gravel or scale a stone wall with her toes. Soft hands with perfect nails and not a single callus from the hilt of a sword.

The younger girls were still sleeping, their soft breath filling the room. I sat up and winced. One of Masako’s kicks had connected yesterday, and my shoulder was aching. I looked down and saw the spectacular purple bruise blossoming across my collarbone.

The new girl saw, too. She gasped.

“Please . . .” she whispered.

I looked over at her with an eyebrow raised as I gently rotated the shoulder to work the stiffness out.

Never ignore pain. Listen to it. But do not let it rule you. Pain is a messenger. Your mind is the general. The messenger tells you what is happening on the battlefield, but the general chooses the strategy.

“What is this place?” she begged.

She was terrified; I could see it. Like a horse about to bolt.

“Didn’t anyone tell you?” I asked.

She shook her head. Her long hair, still sleek even after the night, spilled over her shoulders to brush the surface of her mat. I twisted my own hair, uncombed and still dusty from yesterday, into a sloppy braid.

“It’s a school,” I said. “If you’re staying, you’re here to learn.” Though surely she wouldn’t be staying. Madame didn’t take in girls like this, girls who’d never been hungry or cold or alone a day in their lives. Girls like this had other places to go. “Are you staying?” I asked.

“My uncle said . . .” She drew in a breath quick enough to make her shiver. “If I did as I was told, I could come home again. Everything I was told. What kind of school?”

But I had seen an idea begin to stir, there behind her eyes.

Fighting. Running and leaping and balancing. Climbing walls. Hiding in trees or down wells. She’d seen us at our training. What did she think all that was for?

I nodded.

The killer who slips through a crack in the window screen. The ghost no lock can keep out. The knife in the back. The garrote in the dark. The shadow with teeth as sharp as a wolf’s.

“A school for girls. For flowers,” I said as I felt a smile twist my mouth. “Deadly flowers. For ninjas.”

And then I forgot about her.

Or I tried to. She was nothing to me, after all. Madame and the girl’s uncle had some plan for her. Once the plan was carried out, she’d be gone. So why waste my thoughts on her?

But she was a puzzle. And my rebellious mind did not want to leave the puzzle alone.

I learned her name—Saiko. Did she have a family name? Perhaps. Clearly, she was wealthy enough. But now, like the rest of us, she had only one name.

Was she alone, then, like the rest of us? Would she have to learn to live without a family behind her? That, even more than missing mothers and fathers and older sisters and aunties, was what sent some of the girls into sobbing fits at night. With no family to surround you, protect you, catch you if you stumbled, you might fall—and fall—and fall. You might never hit the ground.

You are alone. No one will come to your aid. You will survive on your own, or you will die.

Saiko, at least, did not weep at night. I never saw her sleep, though. She’d be awake on her mat when I closed my eyes, and in the morning when I opened them she’d be sitting up, looking out over the bodies of the sleeping girls.

“Sleep is a warrior’s first duty,” I said on her second night at the school.

Saiko looked over at me, startled.

“You keep your sword sharp,” I reminded her. “You keep your bowstring dry. You have to keep your body ready and your mind alert, too. Sleep is the tool for that.”

She stared at me as if I’d started babbling in the speech of the demons. I shrugged and lay down. In the morning she moved her mat away from mine.

Saiko spent no time in the practice yard. I never saw her with a weapon in her hand. But on the morning of her third day, I caught a glimpse of her inside

I was startled enough to stop at the doorway and stare. Saiko was wearing a simple, dark-blue kimono and she held the skirts up to her knees, biting her lip with concentration as she gingerly set the edge of her right foot down, slowly rolling her weight onto the sole. A bamboo floor can squeak underfoot like a nest full of mice, but if you do the silent walk slowly enough, not a single noise will betray your movements.

One of our instructor was watching Saiko closely. We were never told our teachers’ names; in my mind, I called this one Instructor Willow, for her slender frame and graceful arms. She’d only been at the school a few weeks, long enough for all of us to learn that she was quick with the bamboo rod.

Saiko learned it, too. The floor creaked, the strip of bamboo lashed down to smack the top of her foot, and tears welled up in her black eyes and spilled down her perfect, pale cheeks.

I moved on, before Instructor Willow could glance up and find me watching. Why was Saiko learning the silent walk? What use would it be to her?

Let nothing out of the ordinary escape your eye. Anything unusual is a warning, a clue, or a threat.

Saiko was no threat. But she was unusual. A weakling in a school for warriors, a rich man’s daughter left with ninjas, who were lower in the minds of many than beggars or actors or the cleaners of corpses. Perhaps, if I kept an eye on her, I’d learn something about what Madame was planning. And since Madame controlled every single thing that took place in the school, down to which girl should be given the last mouthful of rice in the pot, it was always useful to know as much as possible about what was in her mind.