It was not so strange for a girl of few friends and little family to find solace and companionship with some creature or another. Najmah had been that creature for Estrella since the moment she’d seen her. It was in the few weeks before their passage to what sounded like would be another world entirely. She saw the animal carrying the weight of a man who didn’t seem to understand the animal’s worth. He saw her as he saw his wife. Another pretty trinket to add to all his others. It started as an annoyance. A mere frustration at how he chose to treat this creature of his. Then she came to realize, that Najmah was meant to be hers. The mare was a delicate creature, like Estrella herself, but she seemed to have a fire within her. One that Estrella knew well. Even at her young age, she’d never been one to avoid trouble, but always jumped into it head on. Unknown to her mother at the time and even now, she’d let herself walk the fine line between doing what was right and what gave her a thrill. Never though, had she done something so foolish as what she was contemplating. Getting caught doing something of this magnitude could mean the rest of her life locked away. Still, Najmah was hers and she had to have her. Her mother could lay on her back a million times and never afford a horse like this.
Her horse was not ridden often by the man she observed. In the week that she watched his comings and goings, he’d had her brought to him very little. Perhaps once since she’d initially saw her. It was for the best. She didn’t like him riding her horse anyway. He had a cruel hand. He liked his mounts broken. After a week of observation, she makes her way to his home. This was where he lived within the city. His stable here was small. Just two riding horses and the rest to pull his carriages. Tonight wasn’t the night for taking. Tonight was for making friends. So instead of concerning herself with escapes routes for her and the animal. She sneaks into the stable with a sense of purpose. As late as it was, the place was quiet, aside for the occasional rumblings of the animals in sleep. They all did sleep. All except for her horse. She was aware. Staring at Estrella with dark eyes and pricked forward ears. She was even more lovely up close. Her coat gleams a pale gray in the dim light of the stable, all except for that splash of blood red over her shoulders and partially up her neck. That first night it was just the two of them. There was no touching or petting. Just two creatures growing used to the presence of the other. Before the servants rose though, Estrella was gone. Sneaking from the barn like the thief she intended to be and up over the wall with none the wiser. So she thought.
The next two nights carried on much the same as the first. Though, she was almost caught on the second. The only avoided being seen by diving into her mare’s stall and ducking around her legs. It was lucky that the animal was not so startled by her movement and didn’t trample her into oblivion or give her presence away. Still, after the first steps receded and disappeared a heavily accented voice called out to her softly. Girl it spoke, come out of there. Though the face that greeted her when she rose from her spot was not much older than she and he seemed much frailer. The mare though, it seemed, was very much interested in this young man. Her neck craned forward, ears pricked, and she let out a soft sound in greeting. So while Estrella’s normal reaction would lend itself toward rudeness, she held her tongue. She eases over the stall wall and moves forward warily. Half expecting for him to call back the other who’d wandered past and give her away. Strangely though, he held his tongue. He steps forward to greet the horse once Estrella steps away, murmuring to her in a strange language and then his attention is on E once more. Why are you here?
He struggled with the Spanish a bit. Clearly foreign, though his swarthy complexion and odd state of dress gave that away. Estrella’s shoulders shrug and she eases back a few steps.
“Just making friends is all..”
Her gaze flicks to the horse standing there. The animal had decided to ignore them both and was nosing at the straw in her stall in a bored fashion. You want to have her.
“I don’t have to want her, she’s already mine”
That earned her a grin from the boy but still, she was wary. Why hadn’t he called the others? Why hadn’t he turned her in. Her name is Najmah, it means. Star.
That earned a grin from Estrella in turn, “Funny, my name is Estrella. It also means star”
The boy, she found out, had come here from Arabia with the mare. He’d tended to her since she was born. Groomed her. Cared for her and when she’d left her home? Well, he’d come along as well. It seemed though, that this world did not agree with him and over the months he’d been here he’d caught ill, though in truth, he had admitted, he had never been a very strong young man. It’s why he’d tended the horses instead of riding them. Then he told her another story, for Najmah it seemed, was special.
Long ago on the sands of a great desert lived a Bedouin chieftain by the name of Ahmed and his tribe. In the tents of Ahmed was his most prized possession, a beautiful grey mare who was renowned throughout the desert as the fleetest and most beautiful horse in the world. Many people coveted the mare, and kings and chieftains had tried to acquire her, but Ahmed could not be persuaded to part with his beloved mare.
Ahmed decided to breed his mare and searched the desert for a suitable mate for her. After a time, the mare was bred to the premier stallion in the Sultan's stable. Months went by and the time for the mare to foal grew near.
Riding across the desert one day, several miles from his tents, Ahmed was seen by a group of robber Bedouins. Fearing that he would lose his beloved mare as well as his life, Ahmed turned and raced toward his tents, knowing in his heart that the mare, heavy in foal, could never out-distance the bandits. The mare seemed to realize that she was running for her master's life, and slowly, very slowly, she began to gain ground on her pursuers. Shouts rang out and arrows peppered the sand around them as the distance gradually widened.
They were almost out of bow range when the last arrow is loosed. An arrow pierced Ahmed's heart, and he fell forward over the neck of his beloved mare. The mare never slackened her stride and carried her master back to his tents on their final ride together.
Ahmed's people gathered around the mare and removed his lifeless body from her back. Down one of her shoulders, his blood had dried a nasty brown in the desert heat. There the mark remained, for no one could remove it.
That night in the tent of her dead master, the mare foaled. The foal was acclaimed by all as a perfect specimen of the Arabian breed, and on his shoulder was the same rusty red mark that his dam bore.
And so it came to pass that every great horse descended from that mare carried the mark of the bloody shoulder, and it was a thing greatly prized in the desert.
Estrella listened to the story with rapt attention, her gaze falling ever so often to the mare that stood not so far away, standing as if she too were hanging on every word spoken by the young man.
That mare was her grandmother.. the foal born that night her father... Najmah is special...
He went on to tell her that the man who kept her, cared not for what was so special about her. He only wanted another thing for his collection of beauty. He spoke that his master had been tricked and betrayed by the man who now held her and taken Najmah and him away. Then, surprising her he said, if you are going to try and take her. I will help you.
She had not expected help in her endeavor to rid the man of the gray. So the offer once again was met with a certain level of wariness but still. The young man was tired and unwell. So finally, after a few moments of mulling over the offer. She agreed.
Plans were made hurriedly but in great detail over the next week. She convinced her mother to pay the fair for another addition to their party a non-human one. Najmah wouldn’t be the only horse on the journey. They weren’t traveling in the lap of luxury. Last minute passengers on a boat made more for carrying supplies than people. Still, the women who’d arranged the fair knew the captain and he owed them favors. Not to mention he held a certain level of affection for the two. He and Estrella always eyed each other with a strange expression as if they were unsure of how to react, he could be her father after all.
Arrangements made she snuck out one more time the night before they left. The boy, who’d never given a name, had said to meet him outside the gates. She arrived though and he wasn’t there, she waited for a time and was about to give up when he finally appeared. He apologized for his lateness and they snuck back inside together. Najmah knew Estrella well enough by now and greeted her with a soft sound. She is ready to go with you.
They saddled her together in silence and the mare stood quiet and resolute, listening to the soft voice of the young man she wouldn’t see again. The boy was heartbroken at letting her go but knew she would be better off with Estrella than left alone with this man. The boy took the mare out of the stable, not so strange a sight even so late at night. Estrella climbed the wall as she always had. She meets the two outside the wall far from the gate they’d exited from and takes the reins from his hand. This theft would probably have been the end of her had she not had the help.
It was this odd boy who’d taught her to be a bit more cautious about doing things. Diving right in could get you killed. He murmurs another goodbye to Najmah and the mare blows out a breath in his face. After a few more minutes he ushers her off. Go Go.
Estrella leads the mare down the street and after going a distance finally mounts her. Najmah stubbornly pauses and lays her ears back against her head, disliking leaving her friend behind. It was as if she knew that she’d never see him again. Still, she does not fight Estrella for long and soon the two of them are tearing through the streets on their way to where the ship was waiting for them.
Estrella’s mother was a woman of means. She was not a lady. Oh no, that was never the case. Nor was she a pauper on the streets. Her family hovered somewhere comfortably in the middle classes. However, Jesenia had always been a young woman of great passions. Had she not been born to a wealthy family, she might have found a place for herself upon the stage. Those passions got her into trouble at a very young age. Unluckily, she was unable to keep their world from finding out the trouble she’d gotten herself into.
Silly she may have been, but she was also resourceful. A young woman of her beauty found a place among the loveliest and loosest women. She thrived in this small kingdom dominated by females and at times frequented by men. As is sometimes the case, she found herself with child. There was no way to know which of the men that frequented her bed was the child’s father. Never would be. Estrella spent most of her formative years in the brothel, raised by the bright and lovely women.
To her mother’s frustration though. Estrella was never very interested in being a proper girl. She always played with the boys. Beating them at their own games with wooden swords and sticks and leaving them in the mud. Finally, after a time her mother forgave her lack of femininity and brought in someone to teach her properly. She’d always made a decent amount and even the woman who owned the place seemed to dote on the child. She said her temper amused her and her spirit reminded her of, well, herself. Her daughter was only to learn to defend herself should the need arise. Still, skilled as she was, she managed to talk her teacher into teaching her much more. She becomes adept in daggers, throwing knives, short swords, bows, and even firearms (though she hated them. Too noisy. Give her a good dagger any day)
Their life was not an idyllic one but it was happy enough. In a strange sort of way. Though as women do, her mother aged. Though her beauty did not disappear, it became apparent that men looked towards the younger women instead of she.
Eventually, though, an older Italian man took a shine to Jesenia. Though, he was not of nobility. He was a rich man. He cared enough for the aging courtesan to provide her with a life and moved her to Venice. While they live a rather comfortable life, since Jesenia is often distracted with keeping her man happy, Estrella is left on her own.
‘Her own’ is very often getting into trouble, to amuse herself. She hangs out with a rougher crowd, often tucking herself in among the thieves.