Chapter Three

Slim sat by the large fire, well content with life, perhaps, lying back against a tree trunk, her head cushioned by a mound of sweet-scented needles. It was hot where she lay but she did not care. 

This has been a very good day, she thought, and she wanted to savour her success, fully. Beside her was a gold goblet, which she had “borrowed” from Melkor’s tent, a girl had to make her fortune when opportunity presented itself. The goblet was full of an excellent red wine, also unintentionally provided by the Captain of the Draggans. The last mouthful had caressed Slim’s throat and was sending out a delightful warm feeling from her stomach.

The quiet dark fell about them now, except for the crackle of flames lighting up the clearing and the enclosing trees. Slim watched shadows dance and caper through the branches. The night was peaceful, her companions were still busy making camp and gathering firewood, and Chae and Sibil were hunting or foraging. Nearby she could hear running water from a river, as well as the sound of large animals shifting in the undergrowth: the ponies and her fearsome horse had been unsaddled and were being allowed to wander.

This camp was a mere bivouac, a resting place they had chosen on their way back to the main camp, which was still many days away. The main camp, currently at Hargranok near Tarthesius in the Eastern Empire, was busy and boisterous, with hangers on, camp girls, whores, dandies, runaways, bairns and old people coming and going, fighting and loving, living and dying, all done noisily and in a whirl of people. 

Slim was glad of the quiet for once, content to have the Sisterhood to herself. And yet at the same time aware that there was something new in the air, something that had been said or done, about which the others were not telling her. They were plotting but keeping their schemes to themselves. Something she would not like. But what? That troubled her. She would tackle Brimsaga when she got a chance, he was too straightforward a character to lie well. 

And then there was all that gold, that troubled her, too.

Beside her was the chest, and in the chest was the sixteen-hundred pieces of shimmering gold. Slim had never envisaged such wealth in one place: her share alone was two hundred gold pieces, more money than most people could, or would, earn in many lifetimes. And she had acquired that fortune in a few minutes. The top of the chest was open, the gold glinted in the firelight. From time to time, Slim gazed at the glow as if to confirm it was real. 

When she was ten or so years old, she had been sold to a brothel, for one silver penny. The value of the gold in the chest equated to about sixteen thousand times that: sixteen thousand Slims.

The others were pleased with her. They had all discussed the fee for the slaying of Black Breargrar on the way to Duindrax, during the long ride from their main camp, had agreed a price of one-thousand pieces to put to Melkor and the Draggans. Slim had been chosen to negotiate with Melkor and, by herself, had decided to ask for more. So she had earned them an extra six hundred gold pieces. To be honest, she had never thought that he would agree, but she also felt she had played it, played Melkor and Tartuk, well. But then she played men well.

The Sisterhood had got the gold without a hitch, had left the Fenigruin army that same evening: sixteen-hundred gold pieces seemed too big a temptation for an army of brigands and mercenaries, not to mention the irregular troops, that comprised the Empire’s forces. Melkor had given it over without comment, seemed content with the outcome, though he had frowned at Slim. She did not care.

She wondered if he had discovered his golden goblet was gone.

Slim liked Melkor and his lieutenant Tartuk, she liked anyone who gave her that much gold. And she liked their wine.

The Sisterhood had ridden north and west after leaving Duindrax, all afternoon and well into the night. They were now over the border into the province of Fen and were halfway to the port of Fenmarch and the ferry across the Syrad (or Merse) River, then on to Hargranok. Sibil had scouted ahead, while Chaegurd and Viksgald had hung back to ensure that they were not being followed. As full darkness fell, they had turned aside from the road and were deep into the woods that stretched away east to a darker mass of the hills. Presumably the brutal and murderous way that they had dealt with the Bardrachad champion had dissuaded any from attempting to pursue or to rob them. Whatever, it appeared they were not followed, but a watch would be set anyhow.

Slim did not care. Leave that to the others.

She looked round as they set up camp, sipping wine.

Duinglas was chopping wood with an axe, splitting thick logs as if they were twigs. He was the eldest of the Sisterhood, was well into his fifth decade, he might have even been over fifty. He was a tall, heavily built warrior, thick about the waist, balding and with a greying beard. She liked Duinglas, he was gentle and he rarely got angry with her. He never said all that much, but he was shrewd and unusually perceptive, for a male. 

Helping him was Brimsaga, usually known as Brims, another massive warrior, who had taken off his armour and was stripped to the waist. He was younger and thinner than Duinglas, but was just as powerful and muscular, clean shaven with a mane of black hair, the tallest of the company. Slim was fond of him. He was trusting and naive, was possibly one of the simplest men she had ever met.

Both Duinglas and Brimsaga were fearsome when riled or in battle, so it was as well they were difficult to provoke.

Foldric was collecting the firewood and stacking it neatly, away from the fire. He, too, was younger than Duinglas, but his face was deeply lined, more by care than age, he looked frail in comparison to his two companions. He also had taken off his armour and wore a once colourful, but now tattered, tabard and breeks, and high boots. As always, it seemed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Foldric had nightmares every night, so terrifying that he would wake up screaming, drenched in a cold sweat. Yet he was a brave man for all that.

Zala was sitting on the opposite side of the fire, slightly apart from the others, oiling and whetting the thin blade of her sword. She was a slight figure, and wore light leather armour, her sword arm, only, further protected by chain mail and iron bands. She had removed her helmet, and was a plain woman, with narrow eyes and spare lips. Slim smiled: the only heavy thing about Zala was her eyebrows. They never talked, Zala never talked to anyone, except occasionally to Foldric. She was freer with her body than she was with her words. Slim liked the way that Zala touched and kissed her.

A little further away and in the trees was Sibil digging a latrine with a spade. Sibil was dark in nature and appearance, dark hair, dark eyes, dark beard, dark armour, dark character, dark, and as slippery as a snake. Once he had had a proper name, as Sibil was just a nickname, but that was no longer remembered, even by him. He stabbed the spade into the ground, each blow spare but precise, like the dart of a serpent. He was a thin wiry man, who said little but was continually on the move, not nervous but restless.

There was a rustle in the trees, and Viksgald appeared, carrying a small deer, which he had shot through the throat. He was broad and muscular, not particularly tall, with a shaved head and a neatly trimmed goatee beard and moustache, a vain man who spent far more time on his appearance than Slim ever spent on hers. He was also the only warrior (and she had seen many hundreds naked) who had no scars, not on his front, not on his back, not anywhere. He moved with purpose, usually hot and violent purpose, even when doing something as mundane as shaving or eating or just walking. It was best not to get in his way, best not to be the unwilling object of his affections. She was glad that he liked her.

He began to clean and trim the carcass, soon had parts roasting over the fire. The smell made Slim hungry.

Chaegurd had gone to the river to fish but had not returned. Slim liked Chae the best most of the time, although she was easy and shifting with her affection, and often found the person she was with was her favourite. Chae was a strange solitary man, who preferred his own company. In contrast to Viksgald, Chaegurd had more scars and old wounds than anyone else that Slim had met, Chae’s body was covered with them, from head to foot. When she ran her hands fingers over him, his skin was pitted and lined and rough to the touch. Scars on the scars on the scars. But she liked the way his eyes softened when he looked at her, although he could be disturbingly cold and ruthless.

The others of the Sisterhood finished what they were doing, and then sat around the fire, drinking wine, but there were few words of conversation. They ate venison from skewers and bread and other food they had brought with them.

Slim ate nothing but supped her wine and waited in anticipation for it to begin.


It started by Brimsaga coming over to Slim, taking her in his arms and moving her to a flat space away from the fire. Zala kissed her on the mouth and the neck and the shoulders, and then pulled off her dress.

Slim lay naked beneath her, submissive and responsive. 

This was her role, her job, her life.

And, as before, so many times before, she was fucked, repeatedly. 

She was not sure by who…


A long time later, or so it seemed anyway, Slim became aware again. She could hear the fire crackle but all else was quiet. Opening her eyes, she peered blearily about the camp. She found she was wrapped in a blanket with her dress as a pillow, near but at a safe distance from the fire. 

She stretched and sat up, feeling warm, used, clammy and damp, her neck and hips were stiff, and she ached between her legs, a good ache that.

Several of the others were apparently asleep around the fire, also wrapped in blankets. She saw Zala, Viksgald, Sibil and two others. Duinglas was on watch, his wide back to her. She did not think that he had used her, although she was not sure.

She struggled to her feet, wrapping herself in the blanket, he turned to her.

‘You all right, girl?’ he said warmly, handing her the golden goblet, which was full of wine. He had had it ready for her when she came to.

Slim nodded, in a daze. Taking a swig of wine, she swirled it around her mouth, spat it out. She drank again, deeply, but this time swallowed and then cast the goblet aside. Duinglas gave her a rag and she wiped herself.

‘Where is Chae?’ she asked softly.

‘By the river, I think,’ replied Duinglas, pointing. ‘I have not seen him tonight.’

She nodded again, smiled wanly, followed his arm into the trees. She could hear the moving water, but beyond the light of the fire all was dark. There seemed to be a trail, at least the river was closer. Then she came out into an open space, lit by the moon, the dark skinkling water of the river flowed past her, the tops of the trees were silver and grey.

‘Chae,’ she called out quietly.

‘Here,’ he said, close by. Then she picked out of the darker shape, a seated man against the bough of a tree. She went to him, cast off the blanket and took him in her arms, kissing him and then helping him out of his clothes. His mouth was on hers and they fell on each other, rolling one way and then the other, then with Slim on top. It was brief but passionate, and the woman came hard, and bit into his shoulder, then slumped down against him. He pushed her down onto her back and enjoyed her, she writhed and moaned beneath him. And then it was over, and he rolled off her and she lay in his arms, listening to the flow of the river again, her heart pounding in her ears, Chae’s breathing gradually softening.

‘Been a good day today,’ said Slim after some time.

‘Aye’ he said.

‘Why didn’t you join the others?’ she asked him. ‘You must be hungry.’

‘I was fishing and thinking, I must have fallen asleep.’

She grunted. Chae spent a lot of time alone, but she knew he was lying for he rarely slept. She wanted to speak to him, felt there was something to say, but she did not know what, where to start. Several secretive talks had gone on between the men, and there was rarely any unnecessary conversation.

She began: ‘Do you think we will stay here tomorrow?’

‘No, I doubt it,’ he replied. ‘The quicker we deposit the gold the better. We will bypass Deargos, head straight for the bank in Tarthesius, and that is four days’ ride. I don’t like travelling with this much gold.’

The girl sighed softly.

‘Are you all right, Slim?’ he asked.

‘Yes, very well,’ she said. ‘Weary, though. Tired from riding and being ridden, although the latter is less arduous and less sore on your arse. I could do with a night in an expensive inn on a proper bed with a mattress and sheets and blankets and a host of servants to wait on me.’

‘Well, we can certainly afford that now.’

‘Do you think we will ever settle down?’

He paused, and then said, ‘I was lying here, thinking about that. I think so, I think so, one day soon. If we can get back safely, without being robbed! We will then go west to Alamata in Dandamata province. The Emperor has declared the whole city outlawed, the rumours are that the dispute is about are the tariffs and taxes owed. But Alamata is a strong place with high walls and a powerful navy. There may be opportunities for us. After that, who knows.’

‘I wish we could settle somewhere,’ she said. ‘Just been one adventure after another, travelling all over the Empire, never staying anywhere for more than a few weeks. And let’s face it, we are despised wherever we go. I am fed up with being treated like shit, like a worthless whore. I am so fed up.’ 

Melkor’s attitude to her had rankled, despite everything.

‘Yes,’ he replied with a sigh. ‘I am too. I think we all are. And we’ve been lucky, very lucky. How long can that hold? No, I agree with you, Slim. I think the others do too. We’re riding our luck. Time to get out, find somewhere to settle down.’ 

‘Will you take me with you?’

‘Of course, you are one of us! You are the fourth, remember, long before Foldric and Brims and Zal and Sibil and Leah. Jeez, Slim, we’ve been together for ages, why would we part now?’

Slim felt a wave of anguish, of loss, rise in her, and she knew he was keeping things from her.

‘What’s wrong?’ said Chae gently. Slim was usually one of the most stable and unsentimental of women.

‘I don’t know,’ she replied after a pause. ‘I guess I am all mixed up. It's been that kind of day. I was looking at all that gold, so much gold, so much wealth and possibilities and fantasies that can be realised. I was sold for one silver penny. One silver penny. Fifteen years in a whorehouse for one silver penny. The worthless whore, I will always be the worthless whore, no more than a trull for you all.’

‘Slim, your value to me, to all of us, is far greater than the sixteen hundred gold pieces in that chest, greater than all the gold in all of the banks of Tarthesius and Grendell and Syrados, in all of the whole of the rich Fenigruin empire, so much more again. You are one of us, one of the Sisterhood. The only one we all actually like, the only jewel in the dungheap.’

Slim said nothing for a long while. 

‘All dung except your silver tongue,’ she said eventually, with a forced laugh. 

He slapped her behind.

She yawned suddenly. ‘I will go now,’ she told him. ‘I will find Duinglas.’

‘Of course,’ he said and kissed her on the forehead.

She picked up the blanket, and in a moment she was gone.

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