Mistaking the Dragon Mage

‘Mistaking the Dragon Mage’ was my first professional sale, to Marion Zimmer Bradley and was published in the second issue of “Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine”. It is now available through a number of other electronic distributions, noted below.


The story originated, as do many of my stories, with a single visual image: a man walking through an armed camp where a dragon is being butchered. In short fiction (and this story is only about 1000 words) the writer has to get the reader’s attention quickly, and that image certainly does get the reader’s attention. I then added the visceral image of what that must smell like and realizing that whomever this man was, it didn’t affect him. Then I had to answer the question of who this man was and why it didn’t affect him when it affected the two men who were escorting him, who were affected. This is how that came out:

The Mage stopped and stared hard at the carcass of a dragon being butchered at the edge of the camp. The two guards escorting him also stopped and glanced at each other apprehensively. Even veterans such as they were deferential to a Mage. Especially to a Mage whose legend has preceded him.

The wind shifted suddenly, and the acrid stench from the carcass drifted towards them. The two guards at either side recoiled in disgust, but the Mage calmly continued. The two guards hurried to keep pace with the Mage’s long stride. The Mage took little notice of his guards’ discomfort. Such is the character of Mages.

The story title was originally just ‘The Dragon Mage’ but that didn’t have very much “punch”. I didn’t know what to do until I realized the whole story was predicated on mistaken identity, so it was natural to change the name to ‘Mistaking the Dragon Mage’.

Once it was finished, I was trying to figure out where the submit it. That’s when I discovered that Marion Zimmer Bradley, a long time writer, editor and mentor in the SF / fantasy genre, was going to publish a magazine devoted to fantasy fiction. I submitted this and another story (‘Marching to King Death’s Drum’) but only this was accepted, although the other story was accepted a year later. The story did go through some minor editing before it was published.

That was back in 1998. Since then, the story has rested in the archives of three generations of computers until 2013, when I decided to self-publish it. ‘Mistaking the Dragon Mage’ is now available for free through SmashWords.

I also plan on releasing it in an audio version: that will take some research but I have the audio equipment and experience to make it work.

Formatting the story was easy, but formatting the cover artwork was hard. I eventually had a friend take the picture of me wearing the silver ring (created by Darleen Coltrane, one of her several jewelry pieces I own) that was the foundation for the story, then I added the background image (taken out my back door) and the starscape and moon (from a series of Photoshop brushes from Obsidian Dawn) to create the final image (above).

The short URL of the present article is: http://www.terryobrien.me/8QvXF