Their first mission together is a disaster.
Malik dives behind a boulder, landing more or less in Kadar's lap, but anything is better than getting shot through the head. He can hear the arrows hit against the rock, like the pitter-patter of rain, if rain was inclined to have pointy metal bits at the end, designed to pierce into flesh. He tucks in his legs, just as an arrow snags at the ends of his new white robe, leaving a pretty tear that will make him unreasonably angry in the morning, for when he has to mend it. But for now, his attention is devoted to dodging arrows and directing his steady flow of sarcasm at his little brother.
"Perfect," he says, muffled from pressing his face against Kadar's chest guard; it's not comfortable. "Wonderful. Good job back there."
Kadar curls over him, not to protect, but because the boulder is too small to fully shield the both of them. The heel of his boot digs deep into Malik's forearm.
"Well," Malik says, "I'm sure we can learn from them."
"That, next time, I will not trust my brother to fire an arrow into an enemy not ten paces from him?"
"No, the part after that."
"Ah. That I should not laugh at my brother when he fires an arrow that ends up shooting backwards, and, in doing so, give away our positions to the enemy?"
Malik begins to raise his head, so that Kadar can get the full force of his glare, but a hand pushes him back down to keep him in place, the sound of a shaft whistling too close into his ear. To compensate, Malik shakes a blind finger in Kadar's face, not caring if it pokes him in the eye or nose or chin.
"You are to speak—" poke "–to your elder brother—" stab "—with respect—" punch.
"Malik! Stop it. Argh, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have laughed. Sorry. It is not your fault you fail so miserably at archery. Except that it is."
In a less dire situation, there would have been strangling involved, but Kadar picks the most opportune moments to make verbal jabs, since they both know Malik can best him any day with fists and knives. Malik pokes him one last time, carefully rolling from Kadar's lap to peer from the side of the boulder.
"Six archers, I think," he says, ignoring the one laying closest to them, dead from Kadar's passing sword while they had been running for cover.
"Maybe they'll run out of arrows," Kadar says, awkwardly sheathing his sword with the limited room they have. His hand falls to his waist, near his throwing knives, but Malik shakes his head; the archers are too far.
"Templar trading outpost," he says, lowering his voice. The archers had stopped yelling and firing, and he hopes that they are only waiting for one of them to poke their heads from the rock. A call for reinforcements would surely complicate things. "They have plenty of arrows."
"What should we do, then?" Kadar asks, a little impatiently.
"We need to get out of here," Malik says, though it stings his pride. The mission was supposed to be a simple one, to steal the records for shipments and cargo being delivered to potential Templar bases, but being paired together had given Malik and Kadar a sudden need to impress each other, to show that Malik is not just an older brother, but a full-fledged Assassin, and that Kadar is not only a younger brother, but a skilled fighter, still in training, but a warrior nonetheless.
"The records should be in one of the smaller tents," Kadar murmurs, misunderstanding. The palms of his hands are braced against the ground, ready to shove off in a moment's notice to run out there and fight.
"No, I mean, we must retreat. Come back some other time."
"What!" Kadar exclaims. His outburst provokes the archers to send a volley of arrows at them; they duck. Kadar hisses, incredulously, "We're running away?"
"Prolonged tactical withdrawal," Malik corrects, putting his hands over his head. The archers have started to throw rocks now, and the rocks bounce and tumble over their makeshift boulder-shield.
"We can't run away!" Kadar says, also putting his arms up. "There's only, what—six, eight, ten archers?"
Malik knows there's no way for the two of them to take down even two archers, especially if they are all on towers where knives or swords cannot reach them, and even if Malik could sprint to one of the lookouts—which he won't—another archer would just shoot him while he climbs. He knows that Kadar is sensible enough to see this, but he swears his little brother has been listening to too many rumors about Altair—how the man supposedly took down twenty Templars. Alone. In total darkness. With just his hidden blade. While doing a handstand. On his thumbs.
Not that Malik's been paying attention or anything.
"How does 'evasive maneuvers' sound?" he suggests instead.
"Do you tell yourself this often? Does it help you sleep at night?"
"Only when I plan on waking up then, yes, it helps. It helps a lot."
Lucky for Malik, he doesn't have to argue any further when a well-aimed arrow thuds between Kadar's knees, possibly scaring the next three generations of his potential bloodline.
They settle for calling it momentary-relocation-to-regroup-with-the-possibility-of-a-counter-attack-sometime-later-but-maybe-not-today.
The problem, though, is that they are stuck between the wall of a cliff and the Templar's outpost. There's nowhere to relocate-to-regroup-with-the-possibility-of-a-counter-attack, et certera.
"We could use the boulder as a shield," Kadar says, hands now covering his lap instead of his head, always one for priorities.
"Then what have we been doing all this time?" Malik drawls.
"I mean we can, you know, hide behind the boulder while we roll it forward towards the camp."
Malik stares. "That is a stupid idea."
They roll the boulder.
The only benefit they have with that is the sudden silence that falls over the archers. Malik glances up and he can make out their various expressions of bafflement and shaking shoulders.
"Oh, they are laughing at us," Kadar says crossly. His back is against the boulder and his boots are digging against the ground in an attempt to move it further. Malik pushes as well and the huge rock rolls for a grand total of three steps.
One of the archers starts yelling at them. From his tone, Malik can guess that they are being insulted in some way, though he doesn't understand the language.
"They are very rude," Kadar mutters, whose grasp on French is better than Malik's, but only because Malik has been studying English instead.
"Don't tell me what they are saying," he frowns, but he can pick out a few words, and none of them are very pleasant. "And don't listen to them—"
"Votre mère était un rongeur, et votre père sentait baies de sureau!" Kadar shouts, jumping up and probably mangling everything, but the intent is there, which must be apparent, because suddenly the archers are screaming right back.
"Kadar, get down!" Malik grabs a fistful of Kadar's grey robes and yanks him to the ground. A clatter of arrows ricochets off their rock. "What did you say?"
Kadar scowls. "I told them their mother was a rodent, and their father smells like—"
"You are going to get us killed."
"They wanted to kill us anyway!"
"And now they really want to kill us. Well done, novice!"
"Says the man who tries firing a bow with an arrow."
"Préparer à mourir, Assassins!"
The voice pulls their bickering to an abrupt halt. Malik and Kadar jerk their heads up, eyes widening at the sight of six Templars towering over them, their heavy booted feet resting against the boulder, looking absolutely murderous. Malik sees Kadar's gaze flit to the empty lookout towers, his expression turning gleeful.
Because, while Malik may be terrible at archery and Kadar unskilled in long-distance tactics, their swords are fast, faster than the time it takes an archer to draw, nock, and aim his arrow.
Within minutes, the bodies of five Templars litter the ground, and Kadar is panting heavily on his knees and Malik ends up with a cut on his leg from trying to cover Kadar's slip. The last Templar is already too far to try to catch up. With a frown, Malik reaches down to pull Kadar up and, somehow, they end up in the the middle of the Templar's camp, right next to the provisions' tent.
"We should hurry," Malik says, stepping into the tent with his sword ready, only to find it empty and dark.
Kadar finds a piece of flint and lights the overhanging lamp, revealing sacks of grain and barrels of unknown contents. In the corner, there is a table with piles and piles of papers and logbooks. Malik walks over, picking up one of the thinner stacks.
"Of course they would be in French," he mutters, handing them to Kadar.
Kadar reads the papers, silently mouthing the syllables and rolling his eyes up to mentally translate the Latin script to Arabic adjab. He shakes his head, looking sheepish.
"I have not been studying as hard as I should," he admits.
Malik has been looking through some of the logbooks as well. He can read the letters, though they mean nothing to him. "Look for lists of numeric symbols."
"That's all of them."
"Then we'll just have to grab as much as we can," Malik says, holding out an open book, with a list that seems to have cut off, unfinished. "The words say oeufs, le riz, chou…"
"Eggs, rice, cabbage" Kadar translates. "That might be it. Food shipments, maybe?"
If Malik had the time to think, he would have pointed out that eggs do not transport well, but there's a clamoring outside the tent, sounds of cloth and metal being thrust aside and more yelling in French.
"Oh, Allah, help us," Kadar mutters, but he starts shoving papers into his free pouches and when he runs out of space, starts stuffing them under Malik's slash and belt.
Malik has his hands full of the logbooks, but it's a reminiscent of his time as a novice, stealing texts to study by candlelight when the library was off-limits at night.
"Go, go, go," Kadar says, pushing Malik towards the back part of the tent; they don't want to risk using the entrance that faces the center of the camp. He draws out a throwing knife, slashing a long, smooth line down tent's thick canvas.
He parts the fabric, and a wandering Templar stares back, startled.
"Shit," all three of them say.
Out of reflex, Kadar throws his knife while Malik is only slightly more useful with one of the heavier books.
"My, what a suitable weapon you have found, brother," Kadar says, stepping over the Templar's body and perfectly timing yet another verbal jab as a flying arrow tears through the air, almost under Malik's nose, and leaves a hole in the tent.
They rush out of the camp, not bothering to be discreet; the paper trail they leave behind is incriminating enough, sheets of crumpled parchment flying from their robes like autumn leaves.
"It was flashy," Kadar would later say.
They steal a horse at the edge of the camp, scrambling a bit since they can't decide who should ride in front. Malik, by virtue of his rank, smacks Kadar with a book, probably saving his brother's life in the process; when he pulls it back, the book had an arrow in it.
"Thank me later," he says over his shoulder. Kadar scowls, gripping tightly around his waist. The horse snorts appropriately, and Malik nudges it into a gallop.
They escape, barely, with angry Frenchmen disappearing behind them, and the logbooks jamming into their stomachs.
"So," Kadar begins, over the rustle of papers and snap of their robes in the wind. "That went better than expected."
But this is before Al Mualim will read the stolen logbooks and tell them, after they've made their report, that somewhere, a Templar will be missing his mother's omelet recipes.
"It was a disaster, and you know it," Malik says, happily, because he can't read French and he can't predict the future, so he grins for now, careful to keep his head forward so that Kadar can't see it from behind.