“THE AMULETS LEGACY” – book excerpt

CHAPTER ONE — The Beginning

A Desert Encampment 
The Middle East, 1818 A.D.

 Amira could see nothing in the tent’s inky blackness. But she had heard something. What? She did her best to open her eyes wider and to open her ears as well. She could hear Fadia, her father’s favorite mare, moving restlessly. Even though the night was mild, her father, Kawab, had moved the mare into the tent because her time was near. Was that it? Was Fadia ready to have her baby?

Amira slept in the portion of the tent reserved for the women of the tribe. It was separated from the rest of the huge tent by a heavy curtain that let in little light. But Amira slept against this curtain and had fashioned a small rent in it that she could peek through to see the mares who often slept inside with their people. There was no sound from the far side of the tent, also partitioned by another heavy curtain, where the men were sleeping. 

In spite of opening her eyes and ears as widely as possible, she could not see or hear anything more and soon Amira’s eyes grew heavy. There was no more sound and she fell asleep. 

When she woke the next time, it was early morning and the tent was dimly lit by light coming in through the gaps on the dark camel and goat hair canvas. She peeked through the tiny rent again to check on Fadia. Amira sat up with a start. The foal! It was here. She could see two white spots glowing in the dim light, the star between Fadia’s dark eyes and another smaller one below it.

Although she was only a female, Amira was her father’s favorite, born as she was when he was approaching old age. He encouraged her interest in the horses, camels and goats he raised. It was said that his horses were the finest of all the beautiful Bedouin steeds and they brought high prices when he could be persuaded to part with one. With the goats and camels he raised as well, the tribe was prosperous. 

The mares were especially prized as they tended to be quieter and more tractable than the stallions. Amira’s family was large and could be called a tribe. They traveled the desert, moving from one grazing spot to another in order to find suitable grazing for their animals. Amira said a little prayer to Allah that this new baby would live out its life with her and the tribe.

As quietly as she could, Amira rose from her blankets, dressed in warm clothes and went into the wide common area of the huge black tent. 

Fadia moved restlessly as Amira approached. The child moved slowly, whispering endearments to the mare. If Fadia and Amira were the father’s favorites, Amira was Fadia’s favorite human and she quieted, blowing out her warm breath on Amira’s hand. Only then did Amira reach slowly for the foal who was standing against Fadia, his legs still wobbly. Amira whispered, “He’s beautiful, Fadia. You made a beautiful baby. Allah be praised.”

Bolder now, the foal stretched his neck to sniff at Amira’s outstretched hand. Reassured, he nuzzled the human hand and blew out his breath in a tiny snort. Amira giggled, “Silly foal, you’ll get used to me soon enough.” Although Amira was only five years old, she’d lived those five years surrounded by the goats, camels and horses who were as much a part of her large family as were her human relatives.

Amira ran her hands over the foal’s trembling body, all the time whispering endearments. As he became used to Amira’s touch the foal quieted and rubbed against the child. Thus they formed a bond that never would be broken.

They were startled by a deep chuckle, “And so, he is here, no? And he is a beauty, no? Do you approve, my love?”

Amira turned to take her father’s hand, “He is perfect, Papa, Perfect. Look at him. The image of his mother, but even finer.”

The tall man turned his dark eyes to the foal. After a quick appraisal, “Yes, he is. Perfect as can be. What shall we call him?”

Amira’s brows lowered in a frown of concentration. She spoke slowly, “Oh, Papa, I need to think. A name is a very important thing. It will be with him for his entire life.” 

From behind the heavy curtains, the other occupants of the huge tent could be heard stirring. Kawab whispered to his daughter, “Let us take them outside so that we can see them better.”

Soon the sun would peek over the horizon and it would be time for Fajr, the morning prayer. Quickly, they left the mare and foal and washed themselves to be ready for prayer. Amira had learned the prayers only last year and she was diligent in saying them five times each day.

Amira joined the women and Kawab went with the men. They all faced the east where they were sure Mecca was. The tribe prayed aloud, their words blending into a soft murmur that welcomed the new day and lent an air of peace to the desert oasis.

Even though Amira knew that prayers were important, this morning of all mornings, she was impatient to finish. Still she muttered a fervent plea that Allah care for the new foal and give him a long and happy life. This prayer of supplication seemed far more real to her than the repetitive chants she said each day.

Prayers completed, Amira rose and returned to the mare and foal where she found Kawab. They drew more water from the well and the mare drank thirstily. Then they led her to a grassy spot and sat on their heels to watch as the mare ate and the foal suckled. 

They sat just so, entranced by the beauty of the young foal. Even as they watched, he seemed to gain strength in those wobbly legs and in the nudges he gave his mother. After a long silence, Amira asked, “Papa, do you like praying?” For she was beginning to tire of the need to stop everything in her busy young life and kneel to pray five times each day.

She waited patiently for her father’s answer. Kawab’s thoughts raced as he sat impassively. What to say to this child whom he loved above all others. He must not say a falsehood and yet his ideas were not yet fully formed and he must be careful not to say something that could prove dangerous to her and, perhaps, to the entire tribe. 

Finally he spoke slowly and carefully, “It is important, my love, to honor the Great One, Allah, who rules us and the entire world. It is important to give Him praise.”

For her part, the child considered this without speaking. She sensed something in her father’s response that puzzled her, but she did not know what it could be. Something for her to think about in the quiet times.

He looked into the dark eyes of this dear child and asked, “Why do you ask, my heart? Do you enjoy the prayers?”

When her reply came, she stumbled over the words, not wanting to displease him, but wanting to explore this business of praying so that she could understand it better. “I suppose I do. When I first learned the prayers, they seemed beautiful and mysterious. But praying the very same thing day after day . . . it’s not as fun as it was.” A pause, “I don’t know, Papa. But I just wondered.”

His soft reply told her little, “I see.”

Amira adored her father, Kawab, and was eager to please him. When her mother died two years ago of a fever, Kawab drew his daughter even closer and they comforted one another. Her aunts attempted to fill the gap left by her mother’s passing, but it was her father who was most able to help her shed her tears and come to terms with her loss for she knew he was grieving as much as she.

She knew that her father was a very important man, the leader of their tribe and that he had assumed his leadership when her grandfather had died only five years before. Theirs was a large tribe with several tents belonging to uncles and cousins. In camp they resembled a small town and when they moved from one grazing spot to another, their caravan was long and noisy.

Amira passed a critical eye over the grassy areas. It soon would be time to move again. The rainy season was weeks away and the grasses that were so essential for the animals were growing short. But by then the foal would have no trouble keeping up with the slow camels. Although she was only five, Amira had been eager to learn those things important for the care of the beautiful horses. 

Her thoughts turned to the need to find a name for the foal. He was beautiful and even now gaining in strength and grace. His dark coat was a dark red bay and there was the lucky white off back foot. The horse he would become deserved a special name. He could be strong and graceful, of course. Already he was a friend. And she was sure he would be known throughout the desert for this strength and beauty.

She turned to her father, “Papa, I think we should call him Shahir. It means famous. He will be known everywhere for his strength and beauty.”

Kawab nodded and looked down at his daughter, “It is a fine name. Now can you tell me his lineage? Can you tell me who they were?”

Dutifully, the little girl repeated the foal’s pedigree back eight generations. With a chuckle, her father stopped her as she began the ninth generation, “Well done, my love. Never forget who he is and never forget who you are. Each of you is special and a credit to your ancestors.”

The Amulets Legacy, a Maggie McGill Mystery Series book by Sharon Burch Toner
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