Marrying the Dragon
a weird west fantasy romance
As eighteen year old magician, Maeve Winters, sits at her dying friend's bedside, the life she knew and loved comes to an abrupt end. A serial killer dubbed the "Mage Murderer" is at large and thus far has only targeted students and alumni of London's Golden School for Promising Magicians. As one of its current students, Maeve could very well become the next victim. But her friend has devised an escape plan for her—answer the matrimonial ad of an American man and disappear.
Escape is a relief, but that feeling is short-lived when newspapers begin reporting the Mage Murderer has made their way to America.
Dragon-shifter, Jonas Jackson, has hidden what he is ever since tragedy struck back in Tennessee, resulting in the death of his wife. After fighting depression for a while, he decided to start fresh and move out west. But it's lonely there. He needs company, help building a new life, and a warm body to hold on to at night. So he places an ad for a mail-order bride. He's surprised when a beautiful, young magician responds. They're usually highly respected, successful, and have suitors galore. Why is this woman so desperate for a husband?
American widower of 27, 6 feet 2 inches high, strong build, would like to correspond with maiden or lively widow between 18 and 30 who would appreciate a quiet mountain home and an honorable husband; object matrimony.
Maeve Winters stared at the matrimonial advertisement again and again. She'd run her fingers over it so many times that its black ink had begun to smudge.
"Is that Jonas' letter over there?" Liza pointed to an open letter on Maeve's nightstand.
"Did you read it?"
She nodded again, keeping her eyes on the advertisement in her lap.
Liza clasped her hands together in front of her chest. "That's wonderful news, Maeve. Now you can finally get out of London. You can be safe."
Maeve's eyes filled with tears as she gazed back at her best friend. Their room may have only been illuminated by a dim sconce and a few candles, but it was still easy to see Liza's hair was no longer the bright shade of pink it used to be, but almost white. In mere hours it would be completely drained of color, and Liza would be dead. Maeve would never hear her beautiful New Zealand accent again, see the twinkle in her dark brown eyes, or braid each other's colorful hair in their dormitory while they quizzed each other on the principles of magic. During the past four years spent at Golden School for Promising Magicians, Elizabeth Forster had become more than just a friend, she had become a sister.
"You should be the one leaving London, Liza, not me."
Liza reached across her bed and squeezed Maeve's hand. "I have a birthday present for you. Don't think I forgot." She smiled so big her eyes became slits. "Three more days, and you'll be eighteen."
Maeve forced a smile. "What's the present?"
"Go to my wardrobe."
She did as Liza said, and made her way to the other side of the room. Opening its long doors, she sifted around inside for anything that appeared wrapped. "I don't see anything."
"Pull out my violet Gibson."
Maeve pulled out Liza's favorite dress—a deep purple gown with white lace accents.
"It's yours. I thought it would make a lovely wedding dress."
Maeve's mouth popped open, and she shook her head slowly. "This is your favorite. I can't."
"It's your favorite too. I know you've always fancied it." The smile slowly faded from Liza's face, and her eyelids fell a bit. "Besides, I won't have any need for it after tonight."
After carefully laying the dress out on her bed, Maeve knelt at her friend's bedside and cupped her hand. "The police—they might have found something. They have a few more hours…" She trailed off as Liza shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I've made my peace with it, Maeve. But I still need to know that you'll be okay. Let's write your letter to Jonas together. You must accept his proposal. Tell him that you can leave London straightaway."
Her thumb caressed the advertisement again. "I feel guilty for lying to him, Liza. He seems like a good man."
"That's why I chose him. He's big and strong, which means he can protect you; he lives in the mountains in America, which means he can hide you; and he's been married before, which means he knows how to treat a wife."
Maeve wasn't completely convinced. They'd been corresponding with Jonas for almost two months under the alias Beth Parrish. He was supposed to be Liza's ticket to freedom—all she was waiting for was his proposal of marriage, but three days ago the Mage Murderer stole her heart, which meant that by midnight tonight…he'd kill her.
It had already happened to eight other students at Golden, as well as three of Golden's alumni. First they noticed their hearts—traditionally kept in wooden boxes protected with magic—were stolen. Then, over the course of the next three days, the unique color of their hair faded, their powers gradually dwindled, and their bodies weakened. And by the end of the third day, their hair changed completely white, their life extinguished.
"So then don't you think he deserves to know what he's getting himself into? He has no idea I'm fleeing London to hide from a murderer. This whole arrangement could turn out dangerous for both of us."
Liza had been careful to keep certain details out of her letters. Not only to protect herself from being followed or discovered, but to ensure Jonas would want to marry her. "A man won't likely want to marry a runaway child who's afraid for her life," she had said. She hadn't told him where she'd grown up or currently lived, just that she was in London "visiting relatives." She hadn't told him she was a magician or that she came from a family of high standing and means. And she definitely hadn't told him she was a student of the very school that had become the sole target of a fiendish killer. Come to think of it, she gave him such little information that Maeve thought it must have been Liza's kind tone that won him over. It must have somehow spilled out into her letters and enveloped his heart.
Liza brushed away her concerns with a wave of her hand. "The Mage Murderer is in England, not America." She held up stationery and ink. "Now let's write."
Liza put pen to paper (even that simple task appeared difficult for her tired body), and Maeve thought of the man who would soon be her husband. He had grown up in the mountains of Tennessee, but a few months after the death of his wife, he moved to the mountains of Colorado instead. Maeve wondered how she had died, but Liza said to press the matter would have been insensitive.
In his letters, Jonas boasted of the beautiful land, the unexplored territories, and the opportunity for growth. He'd spent his savings purchasing nearly three hundred acres of land and built himself a cozy homestead, but after a time of being alone, he began wishing for something he thought his heart would never long for again—a wife. Marriageable women being scarce in the West, he placed an advertisement stating his intentions. Eleven women responded, but it was Liza's letter that won his attention.
"Let me see his photograph while I write," Liza said, holding out her hand.
Maeve walked toward their shared vanity and writing desk and picked up a stack of letters tied together with twine. At the top of the stack was the photo Jonas had sent of himself. Short tufts of dark hair peeked out of a cowboy hat, and Maeve caught the tiniest glint of a smile underneath his thin mustache. There was no doubting he was a handsome man, though he never described himself as such.
She handed the photo to Liza, who pressed it longingly against her bosom, then placed it in her lap as she continued writing. "There," she finally said. "Now give me the photograph of you. We'll send it with the letter so he knows who to look for when you arrive."
Maeve did as her friend instructed. It was a pretty photo, but Maeve hated that cameras made her hair look dark and sullen, the complete opposite of the vibrant blue it actually was. "Should we tell him I have blue hair since it's not noticeable in the photograph?"
Liza jerked her head up. "Absolutely not. If this letter is intercepted for any reason, letting him know your hair is blue would give away the fact that you're a magician. We can't have that. It's for your own safety. And his."
She trusted Liza more than she trusted anyone in the world. In fact, other than her spinster aunt who lived in Maeve's childhood home back in Ohio, Liza was all she had left in the world. Her parents had passed away when she was sixteen, and she was an only child.
"Are you sure you don't want your family with you?"
Knowing she was going to die, Liza made her parents and three sisters promise to stay away. She shook her head. "Mrs. Duncan will bring the police to collect me in the morning. As soon as I'm sure you have everything you need for your travels, I'd like you to leave too."
That wasn't going to happen; Maeve wouldn't think to leave Liza to die alone, but she'd keep that to herself until Liza tried to push her out the door.
Liza handed Maeve the sealed letter to Jonas. Going back to their writing desk, she lifted the lid to a large wooden box which read Post Box. Thankfully, the headmaster hadn't noticed it missing from the mail-room. After placing the letter inside and closing the lid again, she waited a moment. Then she peeked inside. The letter was gone. "It sent." In a few hours the post box in Candle Creek, Colorado would receive her letter and someone would distribute it to Jonas.
"That's good." Liza sniffed. "Where are your documents?"
Maeve handed all her legal documents over. "I've already changed everything from Maeve Annabelle Winters to Beth Georgaina Parrish. But you should look over everything to make certain it all appears authentic."
Liza scrutinized every document carefully and thoroughly. "Good. Very good."
Next she packed the documents, money, and a few valuables into a large tote, making sure its straps were securely buckled. In her trunk she packed her clothes which included two waistshirts and skirts, an extra pair of boots, a nightgown, and Liza's purple Gibson. Laying flat on top of it all was a toddler's quilt her mother had made her when she was pregnant with her.
"Now your heart's chest."
Lowering herself to her knees, Maeve picked at a loose floorboard and pulled it up. Reaching under the floor, she pulled out an intricately carved mahogany box which had held her heart in it since her transition—the custom of removing a magician's heart from their body—at age four. Then, after putting the floorboard back in its place, she set the heart's chest on top of her trunk.
A tear trickled down Liza's face. "Okay. Now we say goodbye."
"It's only nine-thirty. I can stay a while longer."
"No. You should go as soon as possible. I don't want anyone to catch you leaving."
"Liza," she said, choking back tears of her own. "I'm not leaving you."
Now Liza's face was a downpour of tears. "Maeve, I don't want anyone to see me die."
"And I don't want you to be alone. These are my last moments with you. Please let me hold your hand through it."
Liza nodded, gasping through her sobs.
So Maeve stayed. She stayed until the only pink left in Liza's hair was a single streak down the center of her scalp. She stayed until her breathing became shallow. She stayed until the clock struck midnight, and Liza squeezed her hand with what little strength she had left.
"Maybe you can tell him about me one day."
"Of course I will."
Liza closed her eyes, then opened them again suddenly. "I hear a voice, Maeve. Chanting. I know that voice." She grew quiet, and so did Maeve. Although her body was still, her eyes were wide and full of fear and something else—grief? "Maeve, don't trust…" But Liza's dying breath was cut short, and her grip on Maeve's hand relaxed entirely as she stared back at her with lifeless eyes.
Without another thought, Maeve picked up her tote and let it hang from her elbow. She clutched her heart's chest in both arms as tightly as she could, and, using her magic, kept her trunk at her heels as it floated behind her.
As she left Golden School for Promising Magicians behind, she said a silent goodbye to its headmaster, Mr. Duncan, and his kind wife. She said goodbye to her friends and fellow students. And she said goodbye to Percy, the young magician she grew up thinking she would one day marry.
She didn't cry, though. Liza would say that it would only slow her down. She'd let herself cry after she was safely aboard the train.