Maria's parents were dead. They had passed away only a few months prior to Maria's arrival on Mariposa Island. Mother had grown up here, among the lush, tropical islands and the warm seas. Father had been born and raised on the Mainland, where the blizzards, sleet, wind, and rain, could freeze a person to the very marrow of their bones if they weren't properly dressed.

            Uncle Harpan lived here. Oh, it was beautiful. He had invited her to come live with him after Maria's parents died. Fever. Mother had never taken well to the harsh climes of the Mainland and often fell prey to the pale, drab summers and vicious winters. Maria supposed that was what had taken her life in the end. And then Father, who was tough as nails, caught some fever, maybe one like Mother's, and had also lost his life.

            So here Maria was. Uncle Harpan was married to Aunt Rosa, who was all plump and sweet and full of kisses and generosity. Maria liked her. Uncle Harpan himself was a stocky, short man with dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes, just like every other human on Mariposa Island. He was really very kind, but often was gruff, since he did not know how to handle a child, never having had one of his own.

            Maria was hardly a child. She was a score and one, with gilded curls that tumbled down her back in little ringlets. She had warm hazel eyes and golden skin, all which was very strange on the little island, and on the Mainland, too. Both of her parents had been dark, dark. Hair, eyes, skin. And here she was, laughter and sunshine and bright and golden in every way. Somewhere, back in the family history, Maria remembered reading something about the first child of every sixth son on the mother's side being a "shining one", like Maria was.

            The first week on the paradise-like island was spent reading about the wiles of merfolk, dragons, and centaurs, all of which inhabited the island or the waters surrounding it. Of course, the dragons were very small and the merfolk rarely seen. Centaurs were two-thirds of the population, and tended to get humans into trouble as often as possible. Oh, every human family might have had a couple of centaurs waiting on them, but they were probably old friends of the family. Strange centaurs were not to be trusted under any circumstances.

            It was Uncle who had shoved the books gently into her hands and muttered briefly about the island being beautiful, but there were hidden dangers. Aunt Rosa had dutifully followed with the smile and hug that Uncle Harpan had forgotten in his hasty retreat.

            The next month or so was spent in pure happiness. Uncle's great white marble mansion sat right on the crystal waters of the ocean, and Maria's room had a balcony that jutted over the beach-side of the manse, giving her an absolutely magnificent view of the ocean every morning as she rose with the sun. Uncle was involved in business matters that didn't interest Maria in the least, and Aunt was always entertaining house guests, so Maria, for the most part, was left to her own amusement. Uncle, as a gift, provided a fine steed. She was a fine mare, with big, intelligent brown eyes, a dark brown coat, and a black mane and tail. A long white blaze ran straight down her forehead. Long-legged and speedy, the horse was tireless when Maria took it to run along the beach and even in the surf.

On some days there were picnics on some grassy knoll with Juan, the boy from the village. Maria had caught his eye the very moment she stepped off the ship, with that irrepressible spring in her step and dazzling smile. He adored her. After a not-so-quiet lunch where he showered her with compliments and questions about the Mainland, he was obliged to return to work, while she graciously removed herself from his ceaseless chatter. 

It was in the heat of the afternoons that she sat on some rock by the deserted fishing docks Uncles had once used when the family was poor. They had all worked their way to the top (with Mother helping) and were now richer than kings, the old docks that had helped bring them to glory momentarily forgotten. The whole place smelled of fish and salt and grime. It was the only place she could find any solitude whatsoever, and so she tolerated the horrid scents.

One day, feeling more than a bit nauseous, Maria left to find some other secret place to suit her needs for peace and quiet. She had always been quite independent, and demanded a lot of time just to sit and think.

On her expedition to find a hideaway, she searched all of Uncle's lands, about an eighth of the actual island. It took her about four days, but she found nothing in the least. So, unhappily, she returned to the reeking fishing docks to find some peace.