The Sisterhood

Book One

Chapter One


The champion of the Bardrachad, a monster of a man, Big Bad Bloody Breargrar the Black, surged forward. 

The claim had been that he, alone, could defeat any forces ranged against him. Breargrar was clad in heavy plate armour, as black in hue as pitch, from the top of his solid iron head to the tip of his tempered steel toes. He swung his massive mace above his head, six-foot long or more, jagged spikes and needle-edged hooks hissing and singing and rending the air.

The Draggans were the best warriors the Fenigruin Empire boasted, but they were no match for Breargrar, not even a score. But they surrounded the Bardrachad champion, screeched shrill war cries, attacked with all their might. 

Metal rang on metal like a score of blacksmiths.

Their swords hardly scored Breargrar’s breast plate.

Breargrar roared. Down came his mace on one doomed soul. The warrior’s helmet and head, in an effusion of blood, were piled into his chest. Another devastating blow sent a ruptured man flailing many yards through the air to lie crumpled, weeping, burst.

The rest was brutal, the Draggans were slaughtered. They were valiant warriors, tried to fight, even as their comrades relentlessly fell, they sought no quarter. But their fortitude was futile: one by one they were dispatched, disgorged, disembowelled, dismembered. They joined the steaming corpses, more mounds of ruined flesh. Even the sprawling carcasses of several horses, as cavalry had also proved useless. 

The Bardrachad champion was yet to break sweat.

Big Bad Bloody Breargrar the Black growled in victory, a growing and prolonged bestial growl at the massed troops, at the elite of the Fenigruin Empire: they had thought themselves invincible. 

A complete and decisive and famous victory!

‘Come on you northern scum!’ roared Breargrar, his dripping mace whirling in a red spray. ‘Is that the best you can do! We are the Bardrachad! I will rend you, we will rend you! We are the slayers, we are the slayers, we are death! We are the Bardrachad! We are death! Come all! We are the Bardrachad!’

The ranks of the Bardrachad continued the clamour, a deep and deafening and frankly fearful clamour.


Standing on a ridge, above the carnage, Melkor, Captain of the Draggans, sighed from the depth of his being, both at the loss of twenty of his best warriors, men he had known personally, and more fundamentally at the insurmountable problem down there in the gore-filled gully, Big Bad Bloody Breargrar the fucking bastard. 

Melkor had not wanted this battle of champions. Notwithstanding, Emperor Constant had agreed anyway, so that the territorial dispute between the Fenigruin Empire and the Bardrachad kingdoms could be resolved. They both claimed the provinces of Fen and Lamdos. Neither had felt an all-out war was advisable. So this battle of champions had been set, indeed the Bardrachad were so arrogant that they had chosen Breargrar alone to fight all comers. 

And so far they had been victorious.

Melkor had been utterly against the whole notion, even though it seemed to be in their favour, and said so forcefully. But Emperor Constant followed none but his own council, right or wrong, without heed to logic or reason. And the Emperor had been fully supported by the Xenic Church, even by the Patriarch, who declared the Bardrachad despicable heathens.

Not that that would make any difference. Melkor and the Draggans would be held responsible should they lose the provinces. Melkor feared manoeuvres at Court and Church to discredit the Draggans, to discredit him.

So the two armies confronted each other at Duindrax, on the border of Lamdos.

And the dilemma remained. 

Melkor could not return to Grendell, back to the Court in the capital, without a victory. The Emperor was never reasonable. In truth, Melkor’s army was many times more powerful than anything the Bardrachad could muster quickly, as their forces were dispersed, but there was etiquette to be followed. Melkor could not break his Emperor’s oath. Besides they must be seen to defeat Breargrar. Their power was based on the invincibility of the Draggans, this was a grievous blow.

Yet Melkor could not think of anyone who would be foolish enough to volunteer their services, let alone then go on to win.

He peered at his standard, the sigil of the Draggans, a black rampant dragon on a field of crimson, fluttering from the highest point of the ridge. 

Then he looked across the valley to the lines of Bardrachad warriors, who clashed their weapons against their shields. Breargrar was strutting around the field. He lifted a mangled body above his head as a trophy.

Melkor cursed, entered his tent, having seen enough, having seen too much. He slumped down at the table, studied a map for no good reason. He needed a plan, he needed time to think. He did not want his men to see him indecisive, helpless, hapless. Retreat was unthinkable. Provoke a battle? Followed by a war? Potentially disastrous, especially for his career, maybe that would even cost him his life. And then his family’s.

What was he to do?

No plan came to mind. 

He needed to end Breargrar, now! 

But how?

He rapped the table with his knuckle in painful frustration.

Melkor’s lieutenant, Tartuk, a tall dark fellow, clad in sable armour with the dragon emblazoned in silver, slunk into the tent.

‘Damn that bastard!’ he fumed. ‘And damn the fucking Emperor! Those were our best lads. Survived the siege at Grimsduin. Fought all over. To die like that! And then to be paraded by that bastard, as if they were to be mounted on a wall. Fuck the Emperor! I say we should attack. Now! We can say they broke the truce. Who is to say otherwise!’

‘Softly, my friend,’ said Melkor with a sigh, not looking up. ‘Not all our people can be trusted. We cannot attack without a direct order. And that we will never get.’

A warrior, one of Melkor’s close guard, came in. 

‘Lord, there is someone here to see you,’ said the man, softly.

‘That will be the Bardrachad come to gloat,’ predicted Tartuk.

‘No, lord,’ said the man a little hesitantly. ‘A… a lady. She says she has a proposal.’

Melkor suddenly snapped. ‘Why are you bothering me with this, Grimward! Have the fucking bitch flogged or strip her and give her to the men for all I fucking care! This is really not the time!’

‘As you wish, lord,’ replied the warrior uncertainly, looking away, then at Tartuk. ‘But she said she comes with a proposal, from the Sisterhood.’

‘The Sisterhood?’ murmured Tartuk.

‘Yes, lord, the Sisterhood. They are apparently part of the mercenary company under the command of Lord Udun. Newly arrived, today, so I heard.’

Melkor jumped to his feet. ‘Have her flogged anyway,’ he glowered. He hated mercenaries and their sluts, though he was actually aware of the notorious Sisterhood, even if he pretended not to be. ‘I do not fucking care if she is the seventh reincarnation of the D-Harna messiah! Have her paraded naked and flogged through the ranks! And who, by hell, are the stinking Sisterhood!’ 

The guard made to leave, to carry out the order, though reluctantly, until Tartuk stopped him. 

Tartuk licked his lips, said, ‘The Sisterhood assassinated Drogma, you know the treacherous Count of Dandamata. The Sisterhood slipped into his castle — nobody knows just how — slew him in his bed, brought his head back. They say Drogma’s wife did not hear anything, woke the next morning and found herself spooning his headless corpse.’

‘Hmm,’ mused Melkor tugging at his beard. ‘Yes, I remember now. Although I was told that Drogma’s wife hated him and all the Sisterhood did was to pay her to kill him and then throw his head from the window. They split the reward.’ 

‘How they did it does not really matter,’ said Tartuk. ‘What is important is that they did. Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t have this particular lady flogged or stripped or we will have the scumbag Sisterhood after us — and we have more than enough problems. There are many toe-curling stories about them, but they are, without equal, the worst — or maybe best — bastards in all Eastern Empire.’

‘Very well, Tartuk!’ said Melkor, checking himself and perhaps even a little curious. ‘Be it on your own head!’

The guard went out and ushered in a young woman.

Melkor looked at her closely with an unfriendly eye. 

The young woman was about thirty, tall enough, slender enough, pretty enough, and trashy enough, of course. In this there was nothing to distinguish her from the hundreds of slaves, slatterns, whores, runaways and captives who hung around the camps of his army, either voluntarily or by force, other than she was really quite alluring, even when studied critically. She was clad in a plain but slightly ragged grey dress, low-cut and clinging, rather shorter in the skirt than practical. Her hair was dark, tied back, showing an elegant pale neck. Around her lissom waist was a plain belt on which hung a long dagger in a gaudy sparkling bejewelled scabbard.

Nothing remarkable at all, thought Melkor. Yet, for all that, there was something, something…

Tartuk stood up straight, removed the scowl form his dark features, smiled. Melkor, for no reason he could afterwards think of, took a step backwards, and then another in retreat. He shook his head at himself.

The young woman grinned at them, grinned in the easy, overtly aggressive way that many of her class did — when they were backed up by a vicious band of cutthroats.

‘I represent my friends,’ she said, ‘who are known as the Sisterhood.’ She confronted Melkor, mockingly. ‘I am glad you decided not to have me flogged or stripped or paraded naked, Captain Milkier. Would have been harsh given I have a plan that may save your worthless hide and this whole campaign and return you to the favour of our glorious Emperor. Though, to be fair, I should warn you if you did anything to me at all, they would skin you and your whole stinking army of Draggans, if needs be, and feed your entrails to the dogs. If you believe Big Bad Bleeding Barbiegrar the Black is bad then you have never met the Sisterhood!’

Melkor opened his mouth. 

Was that supposed to frighten him? Was this what it had come to? That whores could talk to him, to Lord Melkor an Abram, the renowned Captain of the Draggans, leader of the most feared army in the known world, so freely. That bastard Bardrachad could slay his best men with impunity, and now this! He was quite speechless.

Tartuk was also silent for a moment, but recovered more quickly and laughed: partly at her, partly at his captain’s strangled response, partly to lighten the mood. Melkor had gone white, then quickly puce. Tartuk, however, loved bold women.

‘Would you like to sit, lady?’ he said, offering her Melkor’s chair.

‘No, I am fine,’ she replied, peered at the Captain, her eyebrows raised. ‘I will stand.’

‘What is your name?’ asked Tartuk when Melkor could still say nothing.

‘You may call me Slim,’ she said to him. ‘That’s what my intimate friends call me.’

‘I am honoured,’ said Tartuk. ‘Forgive the Captain, he has had a difficult morning.’

Melkor shook his head slowly from side to side, now equally as incandescent with his lieutenant. The wrath had almost mastered him, he was about to explode.

But then the young woman, Slim, smiled at him, boldly in truth, a fleeting yet enchanting expression that danced in her grey eyes. Despite himself, despite the trials of the day, despite the miserable situation, despite that twenty and more of his men lay dead, despite Breargrar and the whole damned fucking Bardrachad army, he unbidden was captured by her and before he could stop himself smiled back. His fury soothed away, a little, at least for now.

‘So, what do you say, Captain Milkier?’ she said again, holding his gaze, he looked away first.

‘Captain Melkor,’ chided Tartuk.

‘Whoever,’ said the young woman.

Melkor sighed, slumped down in his chair, she had bested him again. ‘What is your proposal?’

He could always have her properly dealt with, later, if he so chose.

Slim said: ‘We, the Sisterhood, will rid you of the champion of the Bardrachad, Big Bad Bleeding Barbiegrar, or whatever the dude is called. But we will need well paid.’

‘Rid us of?’ asked Melkor.

‘Kill,’ she said shortly. ‘Slay, murder, eliminate, exter…’

‘All right,’ said Melkor with a frown, ‘I get it.’

‘I don’t think you have anything to lose,’ said Slim, casting her gaze around his tent, her eyes briefly caressing a gold goblet. ‘After all, Captain, this is not going to cost you anything should we fail, just the lives of seven no-account fellows. In fact, you may even gain yourself a new girl…’ She shimmied at him, shoulders back, chest forward. ‘That would suit me well enough, fewer to satisfy.’

‘What is this going to cost us?’ asked Tartuk, beguiled.

‘Well, Tarty, two hundred gold pieces…’ she began.

‘That is truly preposterous,’ said Melkor.

‘Two hundred each,’ she said, more forcefully, ‘including for me. Sixteen hundred gold in total.’

Melkor’s face hardened. ‘That is a fortune…’

This time the lady interrupted.

‘How much will it cost you,’ she mused, ‘if you return to the Emperor and inform him what you have lost? You have been a loyal servant, yet what good will that do? The Emperor is wont to forget his loyal servants for his latest favourite at court, any girl or boy to shake their tight little tush.’

A silence, that lengthened.

‘Point taken,’ said Tartuk at last. ‘Captain?’

Melkor hesitated for a moment more, then suddenly came to a decision, and nodded. Haste was needed, he had to do something, anything. This was a plan, if not one to his liking. He considered haggling, then thought better of that, it would simply cause delay and he was not sure he would prevail against this siren. They had the gold. And a fortune in gold would be worth it to eliminate Breargrar.

Melkor tilted his head very slightly.

‘By the way, Lord Milkier, if you renege,’ said Slim tenderly, ‘we really will skin you.’

Melkor frowned at her.

Slim and Tartuk exchanged smiles.

She said, ‘I will go now, and return presently. This should not take long. You want this done immediately, I suppose, now, in fact.’

In a flap of the tent she swept out.

‘Are the Sisterhood really that good?’ asked Melkor in a bleak voice. ‘So much better than us?’

‘Well, Captain,’ said Tartuk, ‘I suspect it depends what you mean by better. I suppose the question you should be asking is are the Sisterhood dirtier than us? We fight by the rules, even if we don’t mean to, the Sisterhood don’t. They see a complex problem and simply exterminate it. If I was Breargrar, I would run for my own sweet life.’ Tartuk grinned.

Melkor looked at him.

Slim re-entered the tent. ‘Come,’ she ordered then disappeared outside.

Melkor sighed, looking at his officers, shaking his head. Tartuk laughed, slapping his superior on the back.

They left the tent as instructed.

Slim greeted them. Behind her were six men and one woman, all of them heavily armed and armoured, wearing helmets, visors down. No device or emblem was on their breasts or shields, other than a white circle painted on the front of their helmets, another on their backs. Two of the biggest of the party were armed with large hammers shaped like pickaxes, while the company also carried sacks, lengths of chain and a couple of casks. 

The Sisterhood, in all their unburnished glory.

‘Do we have a deal?’ asked one of the men, his voice muffled.

Melkor nodded. ‘Sixteen-hundred gold pieces,’ he said, ‘for the head of Breargrar.’

The man looked at Slim, she flashed him a smile.

‘That will do nicely,’ he said. ‘But you may have to settle for his whole corpse, hacking off his head may be somewhat pointless after we’re finished. We will do what we can. Presumably as long as he is dead you will be content?’

‘His lifeless corpse will suffice,’ said Melkor, his eyes narrowed.

The man nodded. ‘Any rules?’ he asked. ‘We would not wish to break some chivalrous code.’

‘No, no rules,’ said Melkor darkly. ‘I want that bastard dead, I do not care how.’

‘Excellent,’ said the man, ‘that’s what we like. A free hand. Then we will get to work.’


The seven of them trotted off down the hill, while Slim stayed with Melkor and Tartuk.

Tartuk took her arm, she wrapped herself around him, they went to the edge of the ridge to get a better view.

‘So who are the Sisterhood?’ Tartuk asked.

‘We are as you have seen,’ she said.

‘You are one of them?’

‘Oh yes, these five years now. Longer probably, you lose track. Many years. A lifetime. But I don’t do any of the fighting, of course. I am a lover, not a fighter, I love them all.’

Tartuk peered at her to confirm what he surmised from that, she grinned back.

‘Why are you called the Sisterhood?’ he wondered.

‘The name is supposed to be an insult,’ she said, shielding the sun from her eyes. ‘Some in the camps say that we are old women, from a nunnery or a convent or a house of sisters, we are too soft and kind to girls and children and old people and dandies, the sick and the needy, so they call us the Sisterhood.’

Melkor snorted. Whatever faults the Sisterhood possessed, softness, kindness or charity did not feature.

‘True, you know,’ said Slim softly. ‘Perhaps says more about mankind than us!’

‘Quite,’ said Tartuk, and pointed. ‘Is that a woman there?’

‘Indeed,’ she said. ‘You will meet nobody better with a sword.’

Melkor stirred. ‘Surely,’ he muttered, ‘they don’t mean to fight that son of a bitch with swords?’

Slim turned to him, squeezed his arm, laughed. ‘Indeed not,’ she said. ‘Watch and learn, my friend.’

Melkor sneered, but his sour expression only amused.


The Sisterhood continued down the hill until they confronted Breargrar. They stood in a well-spaced row, then bowed down and greeted him cordially.

‘Mr Breargrar, we salute you and all your noble countrymen. You are a formidable fellow and your deeds are already renowned.’

And that momentarily flummoxed Breargrar, as well as the Bardrachad behind him. 

Silence fell.

‘We salute you,’ the Sisterhood continued, ‘and all your doughty comrades but must respectfully beseech that you immediately surrender.’

Breargrar was silent. 

His countrymen were silent.

‘Please, this will be so much more pleasant for you, for all of us, if you surrender swiftly and unconditionally. We of the Fenigruin Empire are not cruel. So I beg you: please surrender and we can resolve this unfortunate dispute over worthless lands, indeed wasted territories neither of us will ever covet, with a handshake and a nice roast dinner with a glass or two of our finest wine.’

The champion of the Bardrachad stirred, stirred indeed, finally hooted with laughter, while the forces on his side mocked and jeered deafeningly.

‘Prepare to die!’ growled Breargrar. Not one for long or complex conversations or thoughts, he leapt forward. ‘Die, you soft northern scum!’ 

‘As you will,’ said the man and bowed one last time.

Breargrar aimed a murderous blow, but the man stepped aside and the mace went wide and hit the ground with a mighty thud that reverberated all the way up to where Slim and the others watched.

The Sisterhood scattered. The two largest faced the armoured giant, but they did not engage him, they merely kept him occupied, each taking turns to taunt or confront or distract him. 

The others took clay flasks from their sacks, began to throw them at the Bardrachad champion’s head.

At first Breargrar laughed as they shattered, how could these flimsy things hurt him? But then one broke against his visor, drops of liquid splattered against his face. 

For a moment he grinned, the liquid was orange juice. Another flask shattered, juice went into his open eyes. The pain was excruciating, his eyes streamed, he could not see. He blundered about, flailing with his mace.

More flasks cracked over him, these were filled with lamp oil. Then the Sisterhood began to light the flasks. Several missed as Breargrar blustered, swinging blindly, in absolute desperation. 

Then one flask hit square and his helmet burst into flames, the oil seeping through the holes in his visor, through the ventilation slits, dripping onto his face and lips, into his eyes and nostrils.

He screamed in agony, flung away his mace, clawed at his helmet, but there was no way that he could remove it by himself, no way that he could get the burning oil from his face.

Part of Breargrar’s brain registered the rattle of chains. Suddenly he felt his ankles and knees clamped together. He toppled, crashing to the ground, brought down on his back. He tried to roll over. Then he felt something heavy smash on his head, a whoosh of flame, a searing heat. He was broiled inside his armour, his hair in flames within his helmet. 

A cask of oil had been smashed over him, then a second followed. 

Inside the armour the flames, the heat, was beyond unbearable, Breargrar tried to scream, the smell of his own scalding flesh and burning hair tearing his nostrils. But fiery liquid filled his mouth as he fought for air, his lungs were engulfed. He made one last mighty effort to heave himself up but collapsed again. 

A horrible retching came from within his helmet, shuddering for what seemed an eternity. Then the Bardrachad champion lay still with a last huge sigh of smoking breath.

The oil burnt out, leaving the black, scorched, armoured corpse along with the smell of charring meat. But the Sisterhood were nothing if not thorough. 

Using the large weapons shaped like pickaxes, they rolled Breargrar onto his front, his corpse still smoking. The two largest of the party excavated a hole in his armour using the hammers, until his back was a red sodden ruin of mangled armour, muscle, organs and ribs, and they ripped out his heart. Without exactly having the right tools, they then also removed his head, an extremely crude and messy business.

Bag Bad Bloody Breargrar the Black was, without any doubt, quite, quite dead.


Both armies were stunned, a long silence followed.

All had happened so quickly.

Then there were wails and groans from the Bardrachad, cheers from the Draggans, growing louder and louder.

The Sisterhood admired their handiwork for a moment, then made their way back up the hill to where Melkor, Tartuk and Slim waited. They brought the mangled head still in helmet with them.

‘That will be sixteen-hundred gold pieces,’ said one of the Sisterhood, as they passed, dropping the oozing head. Smoke still wafted from the visor.

The Sisterhood did not tarry, they strode away, Slim made to join them. Melkor’s army divided, partly in admiration at what they had done, partly in awe at their brutality.

‘We will collect the gold tonight,’ said the young woman. ‘Alas that I am not to become your girl this time. Until tonight, my friends. Farewell, Milkier, farewell, Tarty.’

Melkor sighed. ‘Maybe next time,’ he said to her glowering, ‘perhaps even tonight, I will have you hung naked from the flagpole. Just for my own entertainment, you understand.’

‘Oh Captain,’ she said over her shoulder, ‘I would do so much more for your entertainment naked, for your pleasure, your delectation, for your flagpole. Are there are no games that you would rather play?’

Then she was gone.

‘Oh well, problem solved,’ said Tartuk merrily, watching the interesting curve of her bottom as she strode away. ‘So endeth Big Bad Bloody Breargrar the Black, Champion of the Bardrachad.’ He patted the charred head affectionately.

The army on the other side of the valley had begun to disband and withdraw, while the Draggans went down the hill to inspect the still steaming remains of Breargrar and to retrieve the corpses of their comrades. 

The standard of the Draggans danced rampant again in the breeze. 

‘Yes, problem solved,’ said Melkor. ‘And we have the Sisterhood to thank.’ He did not sound very grateful.

‘One thing does occur,’ said his lieutenant.

‘What?’ sighed Melkor, turning away, making his way back to his tent. 

Tartuk looked over the where the Sisterhood had disappeared into the camp.

‘You really would not want that lot as enemies,’ he said

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