warning: implied child abuse, major character death, bigotry, AU medieval setting.
fandom: mass effect
pairring: kaidan/mshep, implied; miranda/shep, jack/shep
“Commander.” One of the soldiers said while they walked, “I fear we must find the border soon, we will not survive another couple of days exposed.”
“I know.” Shepard just said.
“I think that Thane has contracted some sort of rot, his coughing sounds – not well.” The soldier whispered.
“I heard.” Shepard replied.
The soldier sighed and just walked on in silence.
After three hours, Thane stumbled and didn’t get up again. They all stopped and both Auden and the other soldier tried to get their friend back on his feet. “Commander!” The soldier sighed, “What are we to do? I don’t think he will stand up again.”
“I am no apothecary, nor am I his friend.” Shepard said in a clipped tone, “Do with him as you see fit.”
“Commander,” Auden said softly as he let go of the man on the ground, “We all understand your anger, but we are not the reason for it.”
Shepard still wore a mask of indifference, “Carry him if you must, but I am leaving.”
“The bow is Thane’s, it stays here.” The soldier said.
Shepard handed the bow to the soldier with a sneer, “Very well. May Sovereigns descend show you mercy.” He said with a strained, official tone before he turned to leave.
“Wait.” Auden called, “Ser, please.”
Shepard stopped and looked at the sickly looking young man. “What.”
“He is just scared, we all are.” Auden said, “I don’t want to die here on some forsaken field, and neither do you.” He squared his shoulders, “You need us – if someone were to attack you, you would perish quickly without friends at your side and the bow.”
Shepard nodded slowly, knowing the kid was right. “Maybe we could rest a little.” He mumbled.
And so it came to pass that Shepard carried Thane across the unforgiving barren fields towards the border. His head swimming with unwelcome thoughts of Kaidan and how angry and betrayed he felt, and how underneath that was a sadness he wasn’t ready to feel. He had no right to feel it, Kaidan was never his, and for now his anger was the anchor, he needed to get this done.
“I see the tower!” Auden cried, “I see them! Praise the Void!”
Shepard smiled, they had made it, and just in time because Thane would not last another night if he did not see a doctor.
“Thank you Commander.” The soldier said, “You got us here like you said.”
“I had no part in that, you got yourselves here.” Shepard said labored as he struggled for a better hold of Thane on his back.
“We would have given up halfway were it not for you.” The soldier said.
“You don’t know that.” Shepard said, “Important thing is that you made it.” He turned his head and smiled at the soldier, “Come on,” And in silence, they all walked slowly down the hill and towards the border guard towers. Shepard was determined not to let anyone know how nervous he was, because he knew the quarantine procedure was most likely a hoax.
“HALT!” A soldier from the border control yelled, and they all stopped, Shepard shrugged Thane down on the ground, looking at him sideways, he wasn’t even sure he was still alive.
“Knight-Commander John Shepard reporting back.” Shepard said holding out his hands to show he had no ill intentions.
The border soldier looked at him, “Hmm, who are the others?”
“Serviceman first class, Abraham Manning.” The soldier said. “And that is – “He looked down at Thane who clearly wasn’t breathing anymore. “Oh.” He sighed, “It matters not who he was.”
“And who are you?” The border soldier said, looking at Auden.
“Auden.” Auden said.
“What more?” The border soldier asked, aiming an arrow straight at Auden’s face.
“Swiftstrike.” Auden finally choked out.
Shepard and Manning both turned their heads and stared at Auden in disbelief.
“First class royal Jaeger.” Auden was holding trembling hands up in front of his face between himself and the arrow. “Show mercy!”
Another border soldier joined them, “You brought back one of those savages? Explain yourself Knight-Commander Shepard.”
“They didn’t know.” Auden said with a shrill voice.
“He served me well for the time he has been at my side.” Shepard said tired, “I see no reason why he cannot serve the good King James.”
“He is an enemy deserter.” Manning pointed out.
“A pretty high ranked one it seems.” Shepard answered back, “He might have traits that he can teach, or information that will benefit the kingdom.”
The two border soldiers exchanged glares, “Very well, you two –“He pointed at Manning and Auden, “Come with me.”
Auden gave Shepard a thankful but frightened glance before he followed Manning and the soldier.
“Come with me Knight-Commander.” The other border soldier said, “You must see a doctor, and I assume that you are hungry.”
“Where are they taking Manning and the kid?” Shepard asked.
“Elsewhere.” The soldier said.
Shepard knew better than to ask, because he knew very well that just because he was offered a medical check and food was not the same as he wasn’t in danger.
He had been waiting for a long while before the doctor came in, much to Shepard’s surprise she was a smiling woman, she gave him her hand “Shepard.”
Shepard shook her hand confused, “You have me at a disadvantage I’m afraid.”
“Doctor Traynor,” The smiling woman said, “I am a friend of Kaidan.”
“You are?” Shepard inched closer to the edge of the examination table. “Is he well?”
“Just lie down and let me examine you and I will fill you in as well as I can.” She pushed Shepard back down on the table with a firm hand against his chest. “Are you coughing?”
“Define itching.” Shepard said blinking bored, sure that she could smell he had not had a bath in weeks.
“Duly noted.” Traynor said, “Are you dizzy?”
She wrote something down and looked over his body, “When did you last eat?”
“Couple of days ago I had a little meat.” Shepard said.
Traynor nodded and while she fidgeted with her paperwork, she slipped him a note, and winked. “I believe you are fit, you just need to put some meat on your bones and get some real sleep – and a bath.” She gestured for him to stand, “I need to look for marks.”
Shepard pulled his filthy tunic off and dropped it. He raised his arms and let the doctor poke and prod, “You are severely underweight Commander, you have to pay special attention to your diet.”
Shepard said nothing, but just let her search his upper body for marks.
“He came through here some days ago, he didn’t look much better than you.” Traynor whispered, “What have you men been into out there?”
“Did he get through okay?” Shepard whispered.
“He’s a noble, what do you think?” Traynor said calmly, “I have to finish my exam.” She pulled the string of Shepard’s pants sending them pooling around his feet. “That is a serious wound you have here Commander,” She prodded the infected wound, “This needs attention.”
“Where did he go?” Shepard whispered.
“I don’t know.” Traynor whispered back, “But he said you’d want that note once you made it here.”
“Alright I will send you on to a bath, and make sure someone brings you some food. You’ll be fit for travel tomorrow after you got some rest.” Traynor said as she turned her back to leave.
“The others I came with, what about them?” Shepard asked.
Traynor just shook her head; it was answer enough. “Go through the door on your left, I would imagine your bath is ready.”
Shepard sighed and pulled his pants back up. “They didn’t deserve that.” He mumbled as he too turned around and walked towards the room with the bath.
He didn’t dare to open the letter before he was alone. He looked at the beautifully swung letters, and could make out his own name. He focused so hard on trying to make out what the letter said that his head hurt. He’d just have to try again after he slept.
Lowering himself into the warm water was almost divine. As the filth washed off, he could see his own skin, gaunt and bruised. His arms skinny but sinewy, he used to be muscular but his body had started to eat itself in lack of other things to keep it running.
So Kaidan had been through here, so he had not returned to the camp as Auden had said, but why had he left? Why had he left a note here? In addition, where had he gone?
“Commander?” Traynor called before she walked into the room with her arms full of clothes. “Thought you would want some clothes, It’s standard army but I think it will fit you.”
“Thank you.” Shepard mumbled.
“I want to rinse out that infected wound before you get dressed.” Traynor said, and walked over to a table to fetch a cloth and a bottle. “I think I will stitch it closed for good measure.”
Shepard leaned forward in the tub so Traynor could get to work. “Please tell me, did they suffer?”
“Your friends?” Traynor asked softly as she dabbed the wound with the alcohol soaked cloth, making Shepard jerk due to the sting.
“No they did not.” Traynor said, “They were shot from behind when they least expected it, a clean shot.” She paused and dug a little into the wound making Shepard hiss in pain. “The decree says that we have to put them before a firing squad, but no one want to do that. Sometimes it is families that seek refuge and – I would not want to be in the archer’s shoes.” She tossed the cloth on the ground and grabbed the needle. “You are a soldier, you know that sometimes you obey orders that you feel in your heart are madness.”
“Why spare me?” Shepard asked, “I am no noble, or of any importance –“He paused as she broke the skin with the needle. “I am just a soldier. Like those two.”
“Politics.” Traynor said with a bored expression.
“Politics.” Shepard growled. “Politics just got two perfectly fit soldiers shot, whose only crime was coming back from the other side of the wall. Madness.”
“But it also spared your life.” Traynor stated, “You see Ashley is the sister of Kaidan, and she is a darling of the royal court, and so Kaidan’s word means something in an outpost like this. Everyone wants to end their turn, and maybe aiding a noble will get them a good word in with the right people, and thus leave this cesspool of death.”
“You speak of the family as if you are friends.” Shepard said.
“We used to be, I am the child of their tutor.” Traynor said, “I grew up in the household, and it allowed for me to become a doctor.” Traynor pulled the needle out through the skin and pulled lightly on the thread. “He asked me of this favor, and I like everyone else wishes to return to the Capitol, so I called in favor and saved you, and in turn Kaidan will do what he can to have me reassigned.”
“I see.” Shepard whispered, “For what it’s worth, I thank you.”
“For what it is worth, I am glad you came.” Traynor said pulling one last time on the thread before tying it. “There, now you just need to get some food and sleep.”
Shepard was full and about to get in bed, the first real bed he had seen in over a year. He pulled out Kaidan’s letter again and studied the handwriting, perfectly formed letters; apparently, Kaidan had once taken great pride in learning the skill.
I trust Samantha has given you this letter upon your arrival. Forgive me for leaving, I will explain once I see you. Come to the crossroads between Edolus and Alsages, I will be waiting there by dawn for the next two weeks.
Until I see you. -K
Shepard sat back in bed and read the letter over four times, Edolus was far away, and if he was right, those two roads crossed in the Artemis-Tau region, which was quite far away, and in the whole other direction than the Capitol. However, Kaidan had not abandoned him as he had thought, the strange void in his chest lessened a little, and he smiled at the letter. Without Kaidan, he would have met the same fate as his poor companions. He felt a strange unrest, knowing that James had never had intensions of letting his own army back over the border.
The next morning Shepard woke with a start, his heart racing. He didn’t relax until he recalled where he was, slowly with aching joints he got out of bed. He would just get some food and then get on his way. He pulled on the standard army boots and the standard army jacket; it was like slipping into a forgotten costume. His life had turned upside down since he had ridden out through those gates, and he was no longer the same man. Even the uniform felt alien. He put on his best game face and walked out the room, finding the soldiers not on tower duty sitting around while a large boned man would chop up some meat in the far corner. “Good mornings to you.” Shepard said softly as he walked in.
The soldier whom had escorted him smiled weakly back, “We have stale bread and watered down wine,”
“The meal of a king.” Shepard said as he sat down at the table, looking out over the soldiers, they didn’t look much better than what he had seen on the other side of the wall. Someone handed him a mug with some wine in, he took a careful sip, it tasted just as awful as it always had, but it tasted like home.
“Knight-Commander, Ser.” One young soldier finally asked. “What is on the other side of the wall? What happened?”
Shepard sighed, “Death is on the other side, kid. It’s in everything, the air you breathe, the food you eat, the wine you drink and the women you bed. Those lands are dead, and why the King wants them is beyond me, but who am I to question his will.” Shepard said with a knowing smile.
The soldiers nodded. “Your campaign? Was it successful?” Another soldier asked, “Did you overthrow the warlords?”
“We did.” Shepard said, “The king might have lost battalion, but he won a country.” He paused, “The real question is what is the King going to do with it?”
One soldier hushed on Shepard, “That is a dangerous thought to have Knight-Commander.”
“Mayhap, but he have not seen what I have.” Shepard answered, “I will report back to –“
“With all respect Knight-Commander, I do not think that the King is taking an audience these days.” Another soldier said. “The Queens execution – Have the word reached you?”
“I have heard of it,” Shepard said with a frown. “What of the King’s child?”
“Prince Francis, the Void protect.” One soldier said, “No word on the prince, Commander.”
Shepard raised a brow, “I know how soldiers gossip, you must know more than this.”
“I know they searched for the mark on him.” One Soldier said, “But I do not know if they found it.”
“So no one knows if he has the condition too?” Shepard asked.
“Not that I know of.” The soldier said, “But thinks of if he had to order his own heir’s death.”
“They are vermin.” A third soldier said, “Unnatural.”
“Aye, indeed.” The soldiers all nodded in unison.
“But they’re still people.” Shepard said with a puzzled expression.
“You have been isolated on the other side of the wall, you have not been here for the biotics riot, people died in droves Knight-Commander.” A soldier said solemnly.
“In the Capitol?” Shepard asked worried.
“In all the regions, and that was why the ABM issued a decree to ferret out the last remains, on the king’s order.” The Soldier said, “Soon enough they will have found them all, and maybe we avoid a civil war.”
“But he ordered death to everyone with the mark, no matter if they are aware of their condition or not.” Shepard argued, “Those people are someone’s parent, spouse or child.”
The soldiers all just stared at Shepard, “It’s our orders.” They just said.
Shepard wanted to yell ‘just like killing mothers and children’ but he didn’t, he just nodded. “I know.” He just said softly. He knew all about having orders and not questioning them, the moral crutch it was to know that you might do terrible things, but you were acting on someone else’s behalf. This was the mindset that allowed you to sleep at night.
“I need a horse.” Shepard said as he finished his wine.
“There are some left; we had to eat some of them when provisions failed to make it here during the height of the riots.” A soldier said. “You’d have to ask the camp commander though.”
“Where is he?” Shepard asked.
“The tent with the ridiculous gold ornament, you can’t miss it.” A soldier said with a laugh.