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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.