A seagull flew high in the sky, screeching as if impersonating an old man’s laughter. The ocean was calm, slowly crawling up on the sandy beach as if it had all the time in the world. It probably did. The sun had just risen above the ocean and the harbor was bathing in the golden glow of a late spring morning.
Lady Amina watched the seaweed farmers prepare their boats and tools for another harvest day. With the warm spring they’d been having, the seaweed had been growing exceptionally well, and most citizens were sure to make a comfortable amount of money on the annual fairs in summer and fall. And the summer tourist season hadn’t even started yet.
Amina glanced at her reflection in a window. She wasn’t that confident in her new maid’s skills, but her hairdo held up so far. She straightened her thin summer cloak and motioned her maid to follow her.
“Come on now. We don’t have all day. I promised mother I would be back home at lunchtime. The cook’s preparing something good,” she urged her maid who was staring at a hat in the store. As if she would ever have enough money for such an item.
Truly, living in Iruld had its perks. Because so many wealthy ponies from the Crown spend their summers here, the village was full with shops who sold the most exotic items from all over the continent. And Amina always had first choice with everything. Being the daughter of the mayor certainly had its advantages.
Amina walked through the streets, letting the morning breeze softly play with her thin cloak. The streets were quiet still. The real wave of tourists had yet to come and the citizens of Iruld were probably taking advantage of their lazy day. Only the seaweed farmers would refuse to waste a day like this. Them, and her.
The main street looked lovely with the shell-shaped decorations on the houses. They were put on every house in the village center, and were often named as one of the most charming aspects of Iruld. There was even a store dedicated to selling paintings of the shells. But that was not where Amina was headed now.
She wandered through the streets, smiling politely at all the ponies as her parents had instructed her to do. As the only child of the mayor, keeping up a good appearance was natural for her. She greeted the baker and the handsome young colt from the fruit store, who always attempted to give her a free apple, which she always politely declined.
“Good day, Amina,” the florist greeted her when she walked into his store, “I didn’t expect to see you today.”
“My father had some urgent work, so our trip was cancelled,” she explained. She didn’t know if it was true. It was just what she had been told. She took a deep breath and longed to close her eyes. She wanted to sit down and drown in the sweet scent of flowers.
The florist nodded, knowing better than to inquire further. “Is there anything specific you’re looking for, my lady? I received some tulip bulbs from the western shores yesterday. I’m sure their pale yellow will match your pink ones beautifully.”
Amina smiled, knowing that the florist knew her garden by heart. “That would be lovely. However I’m here for a bouquet of lilies today. Miany gave birth yesterday and I want to send them to congratulate her on behalf of my family.”
“As you wish, my lady. White lilies as usual?” Amina nodded while the florist wrote down her order. He didn’t ask about payment. He’d just send the bill to her estate and she knew some servant pony would take care of it. “Anything else?” he asked when he put his quill down.
Amina shook her head. “That’s all for today. I will be coming back for those tulips one of these days, though.”
She said goodbye to the florist, trusting him to take care of the errand. Another thing her father had taught her; trust and respect the villagers, so that they will trust and respect you. Her maid was waiting for her outside, once again gazing at clothes at the store next door. Amina motioned her to follow and she began her journey back to the mansion at the top of the dune, where she had lived all her life.
Most of the shops had opened up by now and some ponies were roaming the streets. Such a lovely lazy day. Amina knew she still had time before her mother expected her and she would go to her gardens to tend to her flowers. The day was too beautiful to waste indoors, even if her father expected her to study.
“Amina!” Recognizing the voice, Amina froze. Not her.
She turned and forced a smile on her face. The yellow pony with her large eyes smiled broadly at her.
“Hello, Roine,” Amina sighed. She didn’t particularly dislike her classmate. She was kind and polite to everyone. Many would consider Roine one of her friends. Amina just wasn’t one of them.
“What brings you out so early in the morning? On our day off, too!” Roine was wearing a light blue thin scarf. While the color matched her coat, it looked ridiculous on such a fine morning.
“Just an errand for my father. What about you?”
“Oh, I’m going to get bread and jam, and grapes I think! I’m going for a picnic with the girls at the old cave later!”
“I see.” Amina forced a smile on her face. She knew exactly who those girls were. Her other classmates, a group of girls who had been friends since they had been but foals. They were all of Amina’s age and she’d been in school with them since her first year there. But they were not her friends. They never were. After all, they were the daughters of farmers and merchants. She was polite to them, and they to her. But they could never be more than that.
“We’ll tell you about it tomorrow in school, okay? It’s going to be a blast, we even have fireworks for when the sun goes down!”
“Are you allowed to stay out that late?” Amina asked, trying to hide her surprise. Her father would never allow that.
Roine shrugged. “Of course we are. We’re sixteen, Amina. Next year after I graduate, I’m going to be first assistant in my mother’s shop. Line is going to go in full time training with her dad on the farm. If they don’t trust us by now, those arrangements will never work out. Anyway, Amina, it was nice to see you for a bit, but I have to hurry now. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Roine waved and trotted off, her pink back bouncing on the pace of her hoofsteps. For a split second, Amina felt the urge to run after her, to ask if she could come along and light fireworks and eat jam and laugh when one of them tumbled into the ocean.
But she couldn’t. She was a lady, the daughter of the mayor and surely the future ruler of this little town. She had been lucky enough to be allowed to go to school instead of being homeschooled like her father, and his mother before him. She couldn’t make friends. She had to remain neutral.
“Lady Amina? Shall we head home?” Her maid stood in front of her, doubt showing on her face. She was young still, maybe even younger than she was, and she’d only been her servant for a few weeks, ever since Amina had fired her old maid because her hairdo had untangled in the middle of the day. It had been so embarrassing Amina had hidden in a closet at school until all the others had headed home for the day.
“Yes… Yes, of course. My mother is waiting, after all. I wonder what she has prepared for me,” Amina muttered. Her maid followed her at a respectable distance as they wandered through the small alleys and larger streets of Iruld. The seagulls were restless in the sky above them. They knew the seaweed farmers would return soon, and hoped to pick up whatever the farmers left behind. She knew the farmers hated them, but to Amina the seagulls meant home.
“Do you like seagulls?” she asked her maid, who stared at her. She had never asked her a personal question before, Amina realized. She didn’t know her young maid at all. She hadn’t even known her previous one.
“I… they scare me a little, my lady. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe it’s their eyes.”
“Do you like them, my lady?”
Amina paused and looked up into the sky. Three gulls flew above her, circling. Maybe they were looking for food, or maybe they were making sure nobody would disrupt their nests. A sound came from the village and the birds startled and flew off. No nests, then.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one up close, so I wouldn’t know about their eyes. But maybe… Maybe they’re not that bad.”