warning: implied child abuse, major character death, bigotry, AU medieval setting.
fandom: mass effect
pairring: kaidan/mshep, implied; miranda/shep, jack/shep
So, sorry about the long wait, and thank you for your patience – it just happened that both me and Maxxie ran into a bunch of adult… My shedule eased up, hers didn’t. So we talked about it and decided to upload the story with much, much shorter intervals than what you’ve seen till now. Maxxie will make the character card illustrations as she finds the time, and they will be added later. You can follow her Tumblr to make sure you don’t miss it. (I think you should follow her anyway cause she rocks).
And so without further delays..
Shepard had not been alarmed when his king had called for him; to be honest he had started to wish for a battlefield, his home had become an impossible place to be. He tried to accommodate Lady Jaqueline, but it seemed the more the baby grew, the deeper the gap between them grew as well. For the last month, he had been surrounded by her ladies, both when he got up and when he went to bed. He did not mind them per se, and he understood her need to speak about womanly things with other women. However, he wished that she would just accept any of his advances, and maybe just once in a while send the ladies from her side so they could spend some time together.
”My King, you called for me,” Shepard said with a deep bow as he entered the King’s war room.
”Shepard,” James smiled warmly. ”Come”
Shepard came and stood at the war map. “You are winning the war, My King,” He said with a smile. ”But you hardly called me here to hear my opinion on your war strategies.”
”No I didn’t,” King James said, his smile faltering. “I have strategists for that,” The King took a deep breath. ”I have a mission for you, a mission that I would not trust to anyone else.”
”Yes My King,” Shepard nodded.
”I want you to lead your men to Everdark, hunt down the Chieftains and hang them and their families as a statement,” King James pointed at the province on the map. “This mission you must carry out alone, I trust you with complete command, and expect you to lead your men to victory.”
Shepard looked up at King James with the question written across his face.
”Yes, I understand your worry Shepard. I have heard all the rumors as well. And I would have gone with you was it not for the Queen’s state, what kind of king would I be if I were off battling barbarians in some far out region while my heir is born?” King James said.
Nodding again Shepard looked down at the map. ”And if the men revolt? I don’t think any of them are eager to lose their lives, and I have learned not to underestimate superstition, My King.”
”Then you walk on with the rest,” King James said. “I expect you to prevail Shepard, with or without your men.”
”Yes My King,” Shepard said. He took a deep breath and said, ”What will become of my wife?”
King James put a hand on Shepard’s shoulder. ”She will be taken care of, don’t you worry.”
It was almost friendly, and Shepard felt a pang of grief for the James he had known when they were younger, missing him something terrible. The laughs, the drunken nights, the hunts and the frolic. ”How long do your scholars think I will be gone then My King? Will I get back to see my newborn as well?” He almost added ‘or is that a luxury that only you see fit for yourself’ but did not.
”Six months to a year,” King James said. “Depends.”
Shepard dropped his gaze and looked at his hands on the map. ”Will she be sent from court?” He knew it was a dumb question because he knew what James was not saying is that no one expected anyone to return from this mission. If the enemy did not get them, the plague would.
”Eventually,” James said softly. ”But I promise you she will be looked after.”
”Thank you My King, you are much too generous,” Shepard attempted a smile. “When do I depart?”
”Two days from now, I will get the generals to assemble the men you will take.” James turned Shepard around to face him. ”It’s of utmost importance that we take and hold Everdark, it’s a bridge to the enemy, and a bridge works both ways. I would trust this campaign to no one but you.”
”My King, you flatter me with your faith in my abilities,” Shepard said.
”Nonsense! I have seen you fight. Only you can do this.” King James smiled again. ”Come back alive and be reunited with your family, and the title of Knight-Captain.”
”I will do my very best,” Shepard said. ”My King.”
James nodded and turned away, indicating that their talk was over, but suddenly turned back around. “John? I mean it. Come back alive.”
”Of course I will,” Shepard said smiling a little sadly. ”You know me.”
”Yes, yes I do.” King James mumbled as he walked out the door, leaving Shepard on his own in the war room. Shepard ground his teeth in anger. How dared he? He gave him some song and dance about the importance of Everdark, but they both knew that even the enemy would not travel through there. Shepard would not be surprised if Jaqueline was evicted from court the moment he crossed the border to Everdark. He had not seen this coming, but still he had always trusted James to do what needed to be done. He had always been a man who did not shy away from the difficult decisions, and as a soldier, he knew that sometimes the hardest ones were the ones that you did not make on your feet in the heat of battle. Still how was he supposed to tell Jaqueline that not only would he be gone for the birth of her child, but that she better pack a bag and go back to where she came from? Jaqueline like he, had no living relatives so Shepard was sure that whatever she did, she would start over. Jaqueline was not a woman to be cooped up somewhere simple, waiting for her husband to return. It had been what had fascinated him when they met, that she was a woman of action and spirit. He knew that her caretakers thought she would never find a man because she would test them all and find them too light or too weak. Shepard had to admit that he had put a lot of effort into getting her where he wanted her. The woman he had met back then was a far cry from the angry, bitter wife who was pacing his rooms like a caged tiger, but whose fault was that? Wasn’t it really his? He had promised her the sun and the stars, but what he had given her was isolation and uncertainty. It was only natural that she had taken charge of her own life, so instead of living like a couple, they lived parallel lives where they tolerated each other more than anything, the only thing holding them together is a memory of why they loved one another earlier.
Shepard walked out of court and straight to the nearest tavern where many of the soldiers visited when they were not on duty. He ordered a drink still thinking about Jaqueline, he wondered when he had started to refer to the child as ‘the’ child or ‘her’ child, he had stopped saying ‘our’ and he didn’t even remember when. He downed the drink and held out his glass for one more. Turning a bit in his chair he watched the soldiers get drunk and sing, and the whores whose livelihood depended on drunk and horny soldiers, swarm around laughing at their crude jokes. He sipped his drink wondering if he should get himself a whore to take his mind off things.
”Knight-Commander,” A voice said next to Shepard.
Shepard turned his head and smiled when he saw the scarred face of Zaeed, his most trusted veteran soldier. He should by far outrank Shepard were it not for the fact that Zaeed didn’t want responsibility and always came up with things that demoted him, while he was too valuable to kick out, so he was still paid by the kings army.
”You look troubled knight-commander,” Zaeed said, and then shrugged with a grin. “And you never visit us down here unless you have trouble with that wife of yours.”
Shepard chuckles mirthlessly. “True.”
”So is it the misses?”
”She is with child,” Shepard sighed. “Hardly the most reasonable of creatures.”
”Oh,” Zaeed nodded in understanding. “This is the reason I never got married, Sir. Unreasonable womenfolk, my life is too short for that kind of agony.”
”Reason has never been one of her virtues,” Shepard sighed, turning around getting her glass filled once more. ”Do you find that amusing Zaeed?” Shepard said raising a brow.
”No Sir, I do not. I pity you,” Zaeed said with a little smile as he took a swing of his mug of ale.
It was early morning when Shepard came stumbling in through the doors to his rooms, clumsily steering for his bed, falling over already asleep before his body made contact with the mattress.
Shepard woke and could hear Jaqueline speaking in hushed and angry tones with some other woman who just answered her in one-syllable sentences. How he wished she would have her damned tea parties with the ladies elsewhere, just for once he would like to get out of bed without a group of women staring at him as if he was vermin. Shepard pushed off the bed and sat up; he rubbed his temples and yawned. He kicked the chamber pot out from under the corner of the bed and undid his pants.
One of the ladies happened to walk past on her way to the door to the corridors, and gasped offended. Shepard could not even be bothered and just shook the last drops off and kicked the pot back under the bed while he tied his pants back up.
He got up from the bed and shrugged his jacket off, he was wondering if he should leave, sneak out the door before Jaqueline noticed, and prolong the time before he had to tell her his terrible news. ”You’re awake?” Jaqueline asked behind him.
”I am.” Shepard ran a hand through his unruly hair. ”Would you please get rid of the ladies?” He asked. “We need to have words in private.”
Jaqueline just stared at him, and then turned around in the door, returning to the ladies in the main room.
”I will not have you ignore my word, Jaqueline,” Shepard growled, getting up from the bed stalking after her to the main room. ”Out! Out all of you!” Shepard yelled, ignoring his wife’s expression of shock and rage. The ladies muttered about the injustice of it, and how knight-commander Shepard was a cruel and unreasonable man as they left. ”Finally!” Shepard sighed, sitting down in one the chairs that vacated one of the ladies just moments ago. ”Some damn peace.”
”Was that necessary, dear husband?” Jaqueline asked icily.
”Apparently so,” Shepard mumbled. “You would never have asked them to leave by yourself.” He shrugged and then turned in his seat. ”We really do need to exchange words in private.”
Jaqueline’s anger gave way a little when she looked at her husband; he looked genuinely troubled and worn. ”What weighs your heart then?” She asked as she sat down next to him.
”First I want you to know that I have no choice,” He said softly. “The King has asked me to lead a campaign.”
”But that is great! Maybe you will get a promotion. And we could get larger accomoda -”
”Shush, listen to me first,” Shepard held up his hand to shut her up. ”I leave tomorrow, and I will not be back anytime soon, that means that I will miss out on your child.”
”You can’t leave now!” Jaqueline argued. “Surely you can go back to the king and make him listen…”
”I am sorry,” Shepard said. “He ordered me to lead that campaign, well knowing what it means. And I will do his bidding because it’s my duty, and because he is my king.”
”Your duty?” Jaqueline argued. “It’s your damn duty to be around for your son or daughter. For your family.”
”Jaqueline, darling,” Shepard reached out for her hand, but she withdrew it. ”I know how much it means to you to have a proper family.” When she did not answer, Shepard continued. “I was not sure if I should even tell you this, but I need you to understand that I will do everything in my power to come back and…”
“Have you even thought about what will happen to me? To your child?” Jaqueline argued hotly. “Or did you just take your orders like a good little lapdog?”
“Yes, yes I have,” Shepard admitted he wanted to be angry with Jaqueline because she was yelling in his face, and he knew that gossip had it that he had no control over that feisty wife of his. Maybe he did not, but this was not about control, this was about fear. A very real fear. “I wish I could tell you something else, I really do,” Shepard finally said. “But I simply don’t know what will happen once I am gone from court, and I know that the ABM has been gaining ground in court and with the king,” He sighed. “I can only trust that the King was truthful when he said that he would make sure you were accommodated in a proper manner.”
“Can you not hear his intent behind his words John?” Jaqueline yelled. “He means to evict me!” She rubbed her pregnant belly, and looked back at Shepard. “Where is he going to send me then? Do you know?”
“Back to your homelands I suspect,” Shepard shrugged sadly.
“Back to my homeland? Have you and the king both lost your minds?” Jaqueline raged, on the verge of tears. “There is nothing for me there, you know that! Nothing but –“
“I know!” Shepard yelled all of a sudden. “I know!” He stood up from his chair so fast it fell over. “But what you do not understand is if I refuse his direct order, your life here at court is over! If I leave then at least the King promised to make sure you are comfortable. Tell me Jaqueline, which do you prefer?”
“I prefer the one where you stay here with me and your child.” Jaqueline stomped on the floor.
“And doom my own child to poverty?” Shepard yelled. “I will not have my child go hungry…” He took a deep breath. “I would rather kill it in the womb than to subject it to that.”
Jaqueline frowned at his choice of words. “I would kill you first.”
“Damned be Jaqueline, that was not what I meant.” Shepard tossed a goblet from the table over towards a small window in the wall. “I told you about when I was a child. What I don’t want is for my own child to go through the same thing.”
“But you weren’t born in court, now were you? Your mother was a whore and –“
“It does not matter who my mother was, or where I was born,” Shepard growled, turning his back to Jaqueline as he stalked over to the cabinet to fill himself a goblet of wine. “When you are living in the gutter, you could have been born a prince, it just doesn’t matter. And I fought long and hard to be where I am, and where you are.” He twisted around and pointed at Jaqueline. “And I will be damned if I throw all that away cause you are suddenly too frail to travel back to your family homestead.”
Jaqueline fisted her hands, but did not argue back, she knew that no matter how crude his point was, he was possibly right. At least this way she got to keep some of the luxury that she had grown accustomed to, and loved. “Alright,” Jaqueline finally sighed resigned. “I will obey your wish, but let it be known that I do not think that it’s even a remotely sane solution.” She sat down heavily on a chair with a sigh. “Who has it out for us? Who could have conjured up such a plan?”
“What do you mean?” Shepard said, inwardly congratulating himself on persuading Jaqueline to go without a scene, should it become reality.
“I don’t know…” Jaqueline mumbled. “It just reeks.” She turned to look at Shepard. “Tell me if the man you know to be the king, would ever willingly send you away like this, and send you away to Everdark and an unknown fate. To a place where there are a month long quarantine should you return, which has yet to be set into motion because nobody ever returned.” She leaned in over the table looking straight at her husband. “And knowing that with your fate uncertain, I would become obsolete to court, and would be rehoused elsewhere…. And…”
“Stop!” Shepard snorted with contempt. “You’re seeing ghosts.” He leaned back against the wall and stared down his nose at his wife. “The King asked me to go, because he needed someone there in his stead. He cannot claim to be a peaceful ruler if all he does is make war, and is not even here for the festivities of his firstborn. A royal birth is a major diplomatic event, which he cannot afford to miss.”
“You are wrong, dear husband,” Jaqueline said softly. “This is the doing of someone, someone who wants to see us destroyed.”
“Quit your yammering,” Shepard said with a half-laugh. “I am sure your family will be absolutely delighted to see you, and it’s not like you’re coming home in disgrace.”
“Oh? With a baby on the way, or one on the arm, and no husband? I would not exactly call that a glorious arrival,” Jaqueline sneered.
“I didn’t say that, I just said it wasn’t disgraceful,” Shepard shrugged and put down his goblet, walking over to Jaqueline and put his arms around her from behind. “I will be home again, I promise. Maybe we would rather get a little house out in the countryside, than return to court. Maybe the nature will grow on you,” He whispered with a smile.
As Shepard rode out the next morning, he looked around him, seeing nothing but gaunt grey faces – the face of a man condemned. Maybe he had promised Jaqueline the impossible. Maybe he would not return from this campaign, and maybe he did ride to his own destruction? He tried to soothe himself with the thought that it was a standard clause in the wedding papers should your spouse disappear for a whole year, presumed dead in battle or captured, you were legally allowed to take another man. Should he have lied, so Jaqueline would not be left with nothing? She could find herself a new husband, maybe even someone who would cherish her and stay by her side. Shepard smiled sadly. Jaqueline was a beautiful woman, she would not have a hard time finding a man, even with a child on her hip, given that she learned how to harness that temper of hers, Shepard hard heard that motherhood mellowed even the feistiest womenfolk, so he took that to heart. She would maybe in fact be better off this way.
“Knight-Commander,” Zaeed said softly as he spurred his horse to ride next to Shepard. “Why the grim expression?”
“Just deep in thought,” Shepard said with a professional smile.
“The odds aren’t in our favor, I know,” Zaeed said softly. “We all know.”
Shepard nodded. “When is it ever?”
Zaeed laughed softly. “When indeed, Sir,” He smiled. “You give these men hope, with you at the helm, I am sure we will make it out by the skin of our noses.”
“I’m flattered that you have such faith in me,” Shepard said, his smile widened a little, and this time genuine. He wanted Zaeed to be right, by the stars how he wanted Zaeed to be right.