For Love Of Family The rain fell hard and steadily. I crouched in my roll wishing I had someone to share it with. Three years ago when I was a Scout Leader for my Clan, I used to share my chilly nights with Valente... I sighed and rolled over. As a Lieutenant of the WindStalkers Mercenary Company, I get a large tent; too large and cold. I tossed again and then felt it. Drip, drip. I groaned and looked up. A small hole had formed in the comer of the tent's roof. I swore, threw on breeches and tunic and stalked out to find a pan.

Everything was a blur. Everyone was running! Horses were bolting and then I saw them. Tall, filthy men on horses with blades bared! Raiders were attacking the camp! How was this possible? Why weren't we warned? Who's on watch? I was shoved in the mud and my limbs trampled by panicking men and women. I looked around for Madoc, my Captain. No sign of him. I ran back to my tent, grabbed my longsword. I bolted out of my tent to Madoc's. He was nowhere to be found. Dead? A lump had formed in my throat.

The raiders were rounding us up like cattle. My Company was quickly disarmed. I looked to the corral and saw Madoc mount my Shin'a'in steed, Jasmine. I took a step to his direction, but was stopped and disarmed by a scar-faced bandit. They hadn't spotted Madoc as he galloped to the nearby forest. Madoc a coward? Never! But yet... was he getting reinforcements? Where? We were miles from a town and currently on the border of Rethwellan. I looked around and saw several dead bodies of my comrades, one being one of my superior, second to Madoc. With the two gone, I was next in command. I am in charge! My heart seemed to burst out of my chest. I can't lead these people when we're all about to die!

One of my companions, Richa whispered to me, "Where's Captain?" I stuck my chin in the direction of the forest. The raiders were binding us up, tight. I flinched as they knotted mine. My circulation was being cut off. My arm twitched involuntarily and the raider backhanded me so I fell to the mud again. The wet gooey mud soaked through my clothes. I suppressed a shiver and laid there unmoving until the raider grabbed my waist length braid and yanked me up. I bit my lip so the blood tricked down my chin. I felt like spitting on the dog.

"Don't move again! Got that wench?" he yelled.

My companions were eyeing me, probably thinking I was stupid enough to try and kick and scream. Kick and scream? Exactly what they'd expect me not to do! Now just to find the next opportune moment.

I counted the bandits. Eighteen, and with six of ours dead and Madoc gone, the odds were bad, especially with us unarmed. The Company would never sacrifice themselves like that. The WindStalkers were a hide-in-the-dark, lay-in-wait Company, not an assault force. Only a few bandits had bows, but they all had horses, plus all of ours that were left. Risky, very risky. Logic was telling me to stay where I was, but my conscience was screaming at me to move. Not a tough choice really, live or die.

I looked at the nearest raider, the scum who tied my hands. He was tying another with his blade sheathed. Another was looking on with a naked blade. Some of the raiders were conversing, they looked bored or as if they were waiting for something.

"Where's the leader? The Captain?" Scar-face demanded. Everyone was looking at me, I stared at Scar- face eye to eye.

"I'm the Captain," I replied, not exactly lying.

"I thought Madoc was a man! Or maybe he really is a woman! That would explain why he likes men." He laughed a disgusting strange gurgle.

How does he know Madoc? Or that he's shaych? "Madoc's dead, I'm Captain now."

"Well Captain, charmed to meet you and your dead company ," he emphasized 'Captain'. "I didn't catch the name."

"Stephania," I smiled, kicked his knee feeling it pop and break. I then brought my knee to his face as he went down from the first blow, "shena Pretera'sedrin." I added. I yelled a battle cry and then, "Scatter!"

Total chaos and total disaster. Three fourths of the Company had their hands tied behind their backs. The others who were free ran and half them weren't lucky. Their advantage of running made them into live targets for the archers. A voice was screaming in my mind to surrender. I couldn't. If they wanted Madoc and nothing else, they'd kill us anyway. I made for a tent only to be confronted by Scar-face. Blood covered his face as he sneered near my own. Blackness...

I awoke from the pain. My cheek was swollen and a tooth was knocked loose. Blood was encrusted around my mouth and nose. A bump on the side of my head was throbbing, as was my left arm. I tried to move, but winced from the excruciating pain in my arm. It was obviously broken or fractured. I hoped Richa, the healer, was tied up with me, but she wasn't. I moaned and a hot tear ran down my face. I was in a tent with nine others and a raider. Lona, one of the WindStalkers messengers, was tied up back-to back with me. Four of my companions were sleeping. The others excluding Lona were lost in thought. Planning an escape or perhaps just praying? That's exactly what I should be doing. I muttered a swift, but fulfilling pledge to the Goddess. I could be home right now with Val and just relaxing, maybe even sparring with some people, riding around the Plains, or...

An hour later I noticed a poking in the corner of the tent. An animal? I doubted it. There was no noise, but whatever it was it made a point of being obviously visible. Our guard saw it too. He had a strange look on his face, as did everyone else in the tent. The guard cautiously got up and crept out, then sent another one in. Minutes later, the poking ceased and the new guard crumpled to the ground with a dart protruding from his throat. Madoc stepped in quietly. My face lit up. Forgetting the pain my arm, I started to squirm in my bindings. He put a finger to his lips and everyone nodded. Madoc cut our ropes and we all silently crept out, Lona helped me, supporting my arm.

We made for the forest where we were greeted by fifteen others either saved by Madoc or the ones who escaped. As Madoc took off again to rescue more, Richa saw to my broken arm. By the time he returned with eleven more people a heated argument had begun. What had gone wrong, why were weren't warned quick enough and so on. The only one who seemed to know the answers was the Captain. He chewed on his lower lip in thought and finally answered, "I guess you all have a right to know."

"Know what?" I asked.

"You bet we do!" Richa spat.

Others nodded and commented in agreement. "Hold it," I yelled, "let him explain." I looked to him with solemn eyes. Please have a good excuse.

Madoc crossed his legs and looked to the stars. "You guys really don't know a whole lot about my past and well, to put it simply, they are."

Madoc was a raider? "I...uh." I was stunned. There were other gasps and shocked visages.

"I was their leader, too, way back before I joined the army. We all fell apart, but many were still loyal to me. They loved me, worshipped me, even to the point of obsession."

I saw where he was coming from and completely understood. Madoc was a leader, a humble, self-sacrificing leader with a lot of charisma. He was one we'd give our own lives for. Lona's thoughts were probably parallel to mine as she reached her hand out to his shoulder. "Madoc, you don't have to say anymore."

He kept talking, "They supplied me with a lot of our inventory , but when I finally refused them, they wanted to join the WindStalkers. By this time, they were already wanted men with prices on their heads and the Guild would never allow it, nor I."

Richa was spitting nails. "So you let them attack us! You allowed this to happen! You should have told us before! You rutting, worthless..."

I cut her off. "She's right Madoc, we're your family and you betrayed us!"

He was shaking his head, "No, you're not, they are."

I raised my voice, "How can you think that? I..." Madoc laid a hand on my good arm.

"They are my family. My real family, blood relations." I slumped back against a tree and felt the rough bark bite into my shoulders. I began toying with a dagger. Many of the others were silent. Richa's eyes were filled with tears.

Madoc broke the silence, "I, Madoc Keethasith, herewith resign my position as Captain of the WindStalkers. With my second-in-command dead, I appoint Stephania shena Pretera'sedrin the new Captain. All those who oppose please...oppose." He stated firmly.

I knew this was coming and I just let it happen. I dug the dagger's point in the ground.

"Good, well now it's good-bye and please tell the Guild that I expired. The idea of a bounty on my head isn't a nice thought."

I forced a smile and remarked back, "If there was one, I'd personally be responsible for being the bounty hunter." Madoc was hugging several people. My head was filled with confusion. I'm letting the leader of a band of raiders get away, yet he was the leader of my Company. I gave Madoc a hug. The thought ran through mv brain again. He's leaving; no, he's escaping.

"This is it I guess. I don't suppose I'll ever see you again, will I?" Madoc kissed me affectionately. I hugged him tightly back.

"Maybe in the Havens," I replied.

He pulled back and looked at me questionably. He never asked anything as my blade slid into his heart. His face looked as if he understood. The drizzle of rain washed away my tears and fears.

The End


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