The fall had sobered him, let alone the danger. He nearly took in a deep breath, but stopped himself and coughed out, “I take it back, I take it back! Forgive me for such words!”
“As we will!” Reem proclaimed. She retracted her spear immediately and Azzah followed suit. “You may say whatever words you like of us, claim whatever you wish of our ability, but you shall not insult our Lel’ul. Nor his belief in what we give to him. He asks of us, knowing what we are capable of. If he wishes we defend his house, with or without his presence, then we do so. And proudly! For we are two of few who are trusted to do so. We shall follow this path for as long as he desires.”
Whooping calls came out as Reem finished her speech. Hasani’s face flushed, not because of drink now, but from embarrassment. Azzah could not care less about his feelings, as she still rankled from his previous comments. Yet the negative feelings had to disperse. The cheers Reem’s words brought to those around them brought forth the solidarity of Hirka. She could see Waseme joining in, hands cupped around her mouth.
Hirka was not large, but it could always be described as lively. Even at this time of evening, when Azzah and Reem were free from their duties until the next day. Many others had come back into town, done with their day of hard work and ready for relaxation or festivities.
Azzah liked this better. Until recently, she and Reem had held the night shift. Azzah hoped that Daudi and Lulu would enjoy the night air enough that the Lel’ul would be pleased with retaining this arrangement. It was nice not having to forgo sleep to see more people. She knew Reem liked it too, though more for once particular person’s company than anything else.
“What’s in the bowls tonight?” Reem asked Waseme. The woman began to pour out drink the moment she saw them approach. It was like this every night, right in front of Waseme’s hut.
She held them out with hands roughened by her years of serving the bowls in the exact same way. Reem and Azzah grabbed them at the same time. “Same as yesterday. It’s not quite the time for next season’s drink, Reem. Hold steady for a little longer.”
“Ah, well I can always ask.”
Waseme chuckled, dark grey eyes sparkling from the light of the evening meal fires. “Asking won’t make a lick of difference, you know.”
Lulu and Daudi wished them a good night and the two women left their replacements and the strange house behind. The house which had a design from a foreign land, brought to this place long before any of them had ever come to protect it. A house none of them had ever seen inside, the Lel’ul’s private residence. One they protected even when no one was home. One they would continue to protect for as long as he asked them to. It stood there upon the slight rise, looking down upon the rest of Hirka. A place easily defended by two warriors worth any mettle. A place that had never been attacked.
Azzah would continue to wonder why warriors as good as she and Reem had to protect such a place while the Lel’ul was not there. There was so much else going on in the land, trouble makers that she and Reem could easily dispatch, animal attacks they could win singlehandedly… and they had to stay here.
Nothing out there could beat the both of them. Not when they were serious. And when it came to fights, they always were.
“Ready for a drink?” Reem rubbed at the back of Azzah’s neck. Azzah stretched out her body, not sore or tense, yet somehow stiff. Stiff from not doing enough, perhaps.
It didn’t mean Azzah didn’t have any interest in what happened outside Hirka and the Emperor’s lands. The Lel’ul was the kind of person who could make her interested in something she didn’t quite understand. Always pleasant, he ran Hirka with the promise of how he would run the entire land when the Emperor passed. Everyone knew, and waited, for something better than they had even now.
“Do you think he’ll come here first, or stay in Hirka for administration?”
Reem shrugged again. “It’s hard to tell.” She moved her hand to her spear once more.
It wasn’t quite time, not yet, but Azzah knew why Reem put her hand on her spear. Ambushing wouldn’t work if they always knew what time it began. Azzah shifted her stance, keeping the wall at her side and Reem at her back. The sound came from the the brush leading down to Hirka. Azzah decided to practice the lunge Reem had made her perfect only minutes before. In one smooth motion, she brought her spear forward. It blocked Lulu’s spear before it reached her side. She jumped to the side, giving herself room to swing at Lulu’s legs.
It was always Lulu. Daudi always went for Reem and Lulu always came for her. Azzah wasn’t sure why the other two warriors had decided that, but she didn’t mind. To her, Lulu felt like the more practiced of the two. Azzah enjoyed clashing against her more than she did against Daudi.
As always at the end of her shift, Azzah began to feel tired. She could just taste the drink from town already, something that always came at the end of their day to quench the thirst that grew at the same rate as the sunlight slanting through the distant forest’s treetops.
They were at a prime location, here in Hirka. The forest lay right down the way, a great expanse of trees for everything the people might need to take from it. In the other direction lay the waters, for anyone who wanted to make the few day trip. Everything within their reach. The only better place to live in the entire land had to be the Emperor’s Lake. Even then, Hirka was better. Azzah might have held a little bias.
“The Lel’ul should be back soon,” Reem said.
Azzah glanced back at the Lel’ul’s private home. Doing his bidding was their top priority and this was what he wanted of them. Defend this strange house. He had told them once that the idea for it came from some far off land. It fascinated Azzah, though she wasn’t sure she would ever want to live in it. It looked to have more space than anyone needed.
“He went to see the emperor, right?” Azzah asked.
“Do you know what it was about?”
Her spear-sister shrugged. “Probably the usual. You know how it is.”
Azzah did, but it didn’t mean she understood. Politics were above her. All she knew was how to fit into the position Reem had led her to. She knew how to be a spearwoman and that was all.
The house Azzah and Reem watched over was different than the thatched roofed houses in town. It was made of brick and wood, standing square. Its walls held up a roof with two sides to it. It was larger than the rounded walls and roofs of the other homes. Azzah imagined it required more supports on the inside to hold it up. It was an odd sight outside the town of Hirka. Yet it had stood here for years, longer than either Azzah or Reem had lived in this place. Azzah was used to it now, but she still thought it strange.
Reem shook her head. It was shorn free of hair, displaying the freckles which covered most of her face. “You can make a bit more distance without sacrificing your poise.”
Azzah shifted her hands on her spear’s shaft and struck forward again. Reem’s advice was almost always something Azzah already knew, but would forget about during the moment. Or the weapon would shift in her hand and she would forget to compensate. Reem didn’t have these problems.
“Better. Do it faster.”
Azzah smirked. She shared many physical characteristics with her spear-sister. Dark brown hair had also been cut away into nothing. They had the same dark brown eyes. Azzah didn’t have freckles, but the shape of her face carried the same strength. The two of them could have been blood-sisters, not just spear-sisters. Azzah returned back to a standing position. For a moment, the both of them stood there in silence, then Azzah lunged forward to bridge the distance between them. Her spearhead, still covered, passed right by Reem’s arm.
Reem knocked the shaft of her own spear against Azzah’s. “Better.”