1. Impossible Magic
Leanna Weston looked down at the age worn ticket in her hands and abandoned all prior belief that there was nothing worse than a broken heart. Her heart, however, was not one ruined by the unrequited affections of a boy, nor failure to secure a husband. It, in fact, had little to do with love at all. No, Leanna learned long ago that no man would ever want the sister with a damaged heart, not when there were two other healthy, lively ones in the stable.
It was this bad heart that had once again resigned Leanna to bed rest indefinitely. And in a time where she believed in few things, and trusted in even less, it was her sick heart that made the conversations bleeding through the open windows all the more difficult.
“Can you believe it, Lydia? Finvarra’s Circus coming to Winter Abbey!” Sarah, the middle of the Weston sisters, bellowed in the back gardens.
“Of course," replied Lydia, the eldest, in her usual bored drawl. "Everyone is talking about it."
Sarah went on, "I’m sure it’s no Astley’s, but I’ve heard that it’s absolutely magical. Elizabeth Rutherford's cousin in Leon told her that elves perform tricks on the backs of unicorns! There’s also a man that breathes dragons of fire. They fly right above our heads before bursting into streamers and snow! And remember Mama’s stories? I’m sure it’s much better than when she went years ago.”
Leanna sighed wistfully and tightly clutched the crystal necklace that dangled from around her neck. Elizabeth Rutherford was known to embellish stories widely out of the realms of reality, but Leanna knew these wondrous tales were wholly true. She could remember the vivid details of her mother’s stories, just as she could see the entire scene playing out in the gardens below.
Though not seeing her older sisters, Leanna knew Sarah’s sparkling gray eyes were open wide, the wonder of Finvarra’s Circus already having enchanted her. “Do you think Papa will let us go? And if so,” her voice lowered a little, hesitantly, “will you go?”
To this, Lydia undoubtedly tossed her blond curls over her shoulder while asking, “Of course! Why on earth wouldn’t I go?” as if not already knowing the answer.
Sarah clarified, “Everyone knows that the loveliest girl in the town is always found near the fairgrounds, dead and missing whatever granted them their beauty. The last girl was said to have the loveliest voice. When she was found, her throat had been severed. Rumors say Ringmaster Finvarra takes their beauty as payment for bringing such a magical circus to life. And remember the story about the one with the missing heart? No, no. Maybe we shouldn’t go. You’re the loveliest girl in our province.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, dear sister. Do you think there would still be a circus if that were true? Besides, you remember mother’s tales. His beauty is unparalleled. Surely those girls gave him their hearts willingly. They’re probably his lovers, you know? He locks them away in a precious rooms, like jewels, and loves them as such.”
Lydia’s flowery giggles drifted in on the scent of night blooming jasmines and hyacinths. The pleasant smells could not soothe Leanna’s anger and pain, and she brushed away her tears inelegantly. It was a great injustice for the circus to be blamed—more, for Finvarra to be thought of as a monster. Numerous constables had investigated the heinous crimes, yet no evidence had ever been found of Finvarra’s involvement. Unable to listen to any more, Leanna lifted her hands over her ears when—
“The only place I can see them setting up must be by Grover’s Field,” said Sarah. “Though as of last night, there was nothing there. If opening night is in less than a week, surely they should be here by now. I do wonder when they’ll arrive and how long they’ll stay. Elizabeth said it remained in Pale Clearing for quite some time, and her cousin said she’d too seen it years back while on holiday in Wildwood. She was there for a whole summer. Can you imagine, the circus, here in Winter Abbey for a whole season?”
“The longer, the better, I say," Lydia said. "Nothing ever happens in this town. It will give me time to make Finvarra fall in love with me. And when he chooses me as his muse, he won’t be forced to take my heart. I shall give it to him willingly, and he shall love me.”