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Shahar Al-Aziza | Chapter 1

by Amanda Crispel
Shahar Al-Aziza

New Beginnings

The mare pushes one last time, fatigue nearly overcoming her. The long journey and poor conditions have robbed her of her usual vitality. She tries gallantly to get to her feet to see her foal but is unable to rise. Wearily looking back to where her newborn lies, she groans and finally gives up. Resting on her side, drenched in sweat, the little mother's nostrils flare as she sucks in the cold, damp air and tries to recover from her exertions.

Her foal lies in the straw, steam rising from her tiny, dark, motionless body. She is premature, only 310 days in her mother's womb and barely ready for the harsh, outside world. The birth, the little mare's first, was difficult and the foal is exhausted. Perhaps it would be easier, kinder to just let life slip away. Perhaps this journey, which started six months ago, is too hard for one so small to complete.

Dayana sat on a bail of hay watching the horses nibble at their breakfast, their contented munching reassuring her that the whole world had not turned upside-down. Six months ago she and her parents had been happily living in Cairo, Egypt.

Her father Richard, and his brother John, had an Arabian horse importing business. Richard often traveled to Egypt to find prospective horses for their clients. On one such trip Richard met and fell in love with a beautiful Egyptian woman named Kalyn and decided to stay.

Not long after setting up his business in the famed El Zahraa stables just outside Cairo, he and Kalyn were married. A year later their daughter Dayana was born.

Most of Dyana's early childhood years were spent beside her father at the timeless El Zahraa stables. It was here that Dayana first fell in love with the Arabian horse, one of the most ancient breeds known to man.

Richard instilled in his daughter a great love for all things equine. Father and daughter spent countless hours together at the stables. Dayana was insatiable in her desire to learn about horses, and Richard had the infinite patience to answer all of her questions. Richard not only gave his daughter the gift of knowledge, but also the self confidence to act on that knowledge and take pride in her accomplishments.

Dayana remembered one of the first stories her father had told her as a little girl, and though she was now twelve she still loved to hear it. The story was called Al Khamsa, which meant "The Five." Dayana closed her eyes. She could hear his gentle voice in her mind.

"This is the story of the beginning of the Arabian breed. A very, very long time ago, the wise prophet Mohammed wished to test the courage and obedience of his Arabian mares, to seek out only the finest. One hundred of the most exceptional animals were penned together without water for several days.

Then at his command, the magnificent herd of horses was released from their enclosure. Freed from their pen, the mares ran to a nearby stream to quench their desperate thirst. However, just as they were about to reach the water, Mohammed blew his war bugle summoning them all to battle.

From all that he had chosen, only five mares stopped, and turning on their haunches, sped back to their master and their duty. These five mares Mohammed claimed were worthy to become the mothers of the Arabian breed."

Dayana looked at the three horses in their pens, Aziz, Barika, and Khadijah, her father's treasures. She imagined when she gazed into their deep, dark, expressive eyes, she could see those five beautiful, ancient mares of the Al Khamsa as they sped across the desert sands.

Aziz, an exceptional stallion in his prime, pawed at the ground in frustration at his confinement, his sleek muscles rippled under the gleam of his jet black hide. Not one white marking marred his perfect coat. Under saddle he was shear excitement and power exploding with each stride.

Barika, a gentle and wise mare with luminous eyes and a smoky grey coat, raised her delicate head high on a perfectly arched neck. Dayana had ridden her many times and each time was amazed how smooth and graceful the mare moved beneath her. Riding Barika was like sitting on a cloud.

But Khadijah, pregnant with her first foal was Dayana's favorite. She was as light as Aziz was dark, her coat, mane and tail a silken white. Khadijah's petite frame, only 14.1 hands high, made her the perfect size for Dayana and the two had made a great team in the show ring.

Aziz raised his head and bugled in alarm, the shrill sound splintering the quiet morning air. He was young, and proud, and the mirror image of his famous sire, Adl, one of the most prized stallions in all of Egypt.

Khadijah the youngest of the three, startled at the sound of Aziz's call. Pregnancy had made her sensitive and nervous. Dayana jumped off her perch and slipped into the holding pen. She stroked the white velvet of Khadijah's coat as the mare blew air through her delicate nostrils, searching out the source of danger.

Finally, the wise Barika raised her head and snorted in disgust at her two companions. Little rattled the steadfast mare, and she seemed annoyed that her breakfast should be disturbed for no good reason. Dayana smiled fondly at Barika's matronly ways. She was a calming influence and soon, following the older mare's lead, all three went back to munching their hay.

Dayana also followed the lead of her little herd and tried to let go of her own unrest. This morning would be the beginning of a long journey, one that was put into motion six months ago with the death of her father in an automobile accident.

Dayana's eyes misted over and she buried her face in Khadijah's mane trying to fight back the tears. It was difficult to fully accept that he was gone. Since the day of the accident, she had spent most of her time with the horses. They brought some comfort, but she still expected to hear his voice call out from one of the stalls. Moments when she had questions hurt the most. Without thinking, she would turn to go and seek him out then remember he couldn't answer her questions anymore. It made everything seem so unsure.

After her father's death, Dayana's Uncle John sent word that Kalyn and Dayana were welcome to come to the United states to live with his family. Though an accomplished equestrienne herself, Kalyn decided not to continue her husband's business in Cairo. Instead she would sell their horses and use the money for a new start in America.

Dayana was devastated to hear that they must sell all the horses. They seemed all she had left of her father. Desperate not to lose everything, Dayana worked hard to persuade her mother to at least take Aziz, Barika and Khadijah, the jewels of her father's years of work.

At first Kalyn was skeptical, but with a little persistent persuasion from her daughter she soon realized that taking the two mares and stallion might make good sense after all. Both Aziz and Barika had already proven themselves in the show ring and could help her establish herself as an equestrienne in the United States. And Khadijah had been bred to Aziz, now one of the top stallions in all of Egypt. The foal would be quite valuable.

Kalyn booked passage on a small freighter out of the port of Alexandria. She and Dayana would accompany the horses and provide their care. Uncle John agreed to meet them in San Francisco and transport them to his ranch in Arizona.

Activity on the docks drew Dayana's attention. Soon the horses would be moved from their holding pens to the cargo area below the ship's decks and she and her mother would join them for their journey to America. She took a deep breath to settle her nerves then ran her hand over Khadijah's swollen girth. Originally the schedule of the trip would have put Khadijah safely on land before the foal was due. However, the ship had been delayed in port and now the margin of error was growing slim.

Dayana's stomach churned in a knot. Uncertainty filled her mind. Perhaps Khadijah should remain behind? The journey might be too difficult. There would be little help if the foal were born on the ship. She looked into the little mare's eyes and a trust passed between them. Khadijah would come with them, and Dayana was determined to see her safely through.

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