“Is that why you stopped by earlier than normal?” Reem’s question sounded more like a comment.
“Were you surprised?” Lulu waggled her eyebrows at Azzah.
Azzah rolled her eyes, but couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “It’s still too close. You should stop by long before you’re supposed to take over our post. Then we might truly have to keep an eye out.”
“We’re doing that the entire time. It won’t make too much of a difference.” Reem rested an arm on Azzah’s shoulder, leaning into her. “Don’t lose any sleep trying to surprise us. We are unsurprisable.”
“You can say that all you want, but we’ll beat you. One day.”
Azzah shook her head. No offense to Daudi’s words, or Lulu’s effort, but she doubted it. They were too far behind. No one could beat both Azzah and Reem. “Keep trying. We appreciate the attempt.”
“The practice,” Reem corrected. “You both have a good night. We’ll see you on the morrow.”
After a few hits, she and Reem swapped places. She parried one of Daudi’s blows, moving Reem with her back in order for the both of them to knock the two assailants into each other. Reem pushed back into Azzah’s arm with force, force Azzah used to knock the butt end of her spear into Daudi’s stomach. He hit the ground on his back. Lulu knew when to back off from Reem’s lunge, placing the end of her spear down into the dirt. “Got us again! Daudi?”
He wheezed out a breath, but pushed himself upright. “Got us again,” he agreed. Azzah held out her hand and helped him to his feet. “One day we’ll get you.”
Azzah snorted. “I doubt that. You both have a long way to go.”
Reem laughed. “But better. Nice attempt. I think you were close to striking Azzah once, if I hadn’t been there.”
Lulu smirked, shaking her head as her dark hair rattled against her face. Much like Azzah and Reem, Lulu and Daudi shared many characteristics as spear-siblings. The most obvious was their hair, dreaded with beads. Daudi’s beads were smaller, he must have decided to follow Lulu’s lead. Azzah found it typical. “We must continue to work on our cooperation, Daudi. That is our fatal flaw, I believe. We have yet to figure out how to work together in a way that could possibly make a dent on them.”
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.
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.”
His lungs were still filled with air, but his mind blanked.
The piano stopped. “What happened?”
He cleared his throat. “I… nothing.” He had forgotten the words. The words he had memorized backwards and forward. The words he had to present to the entire auditorium tomorrow. The words he couldn’t possibly have forgotten now.
“Then let’s start from the refrain.”
Not from the chest, but from the stomach. He reminded himself of this simple concept. The words had to be there. It was nerves. “All right.”
From amateur to professional, stage fright always found a way back to him.