Loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature's delight. - Marcus Aurelius
John Shepard was a ruthless man, a career soldier unwilling to compromise, but ready to carry out any campaign his King entrusted to him. There was no doubt that he got results, he was a man of action who seemed to know his King's mind. He had not always been like that, once he had been a fearful and angry child, but those days were long forgotten and no one dared remind him.
Knight-Commander Shepard was larger than life as he arrived alongside his King, their campaign successful, and the enemy culled. Being a soldier to the bone, he knew all too well the importance of leaving the war at the battlefield, and as he jumped off his horse, he had a bounce in his step as if he had not a care in the world. Walking straight for his living quarters he yearned for a warm bath and a real meal, but as he opened the door, what met him was his wife, Lady Jaqueline with two other ladies from the court, giggling and whispering.
"Ladies," Shepard said, and nodded towards them, he knew that he ought to greet them but he just could not be bothered.
"Husband," Lady Jaqueline said, with a forced smile, watching him as he disappeared into the next room. "I trust your campaign was victorious?"
Shepard did not answer, he just sat down on their bed, unclasped his breastplate and let it fall to the ground as he pulled off his boots. His entire body was aching and tired, and he felt years older than what he was. He heard Jaqueline send off the other ladies and the door close. He didn't even open his eyes as she entered the bedroom.
"You are filthy," She said softly. "Must you lie on our bed?"
Shepard felt like whining like a petulant child, but he summoned all his willpower and smiled, "You could get down here with me, and I could make you filthy too."
Lady Jaqueline chuckled, "Always the charmer."
"You love me," Shepard mumbled.
"I must, because if I did not I would surely have you taken from my personal chambers." She jested, sitting down on the bed, and placing a hand on Shepard's grimy one. "Let me call someone to draw a bath for you."
"That would be nice." Shepard agreed, listening to his wife's soft footsteps as she left the room. He must have dozed off because when she came back and woke him, the bath was already waiting for him. "Come," She urged. "Your bath is ready."
"Thank you," Shepard groaned with a tired smile, slowly getting up stretching his back. He undid the buckles of his chainmail and left it on the bed. He would have to come back and gather his armor, but right now, it had to wait. He sat down on a chair next to the bath in their main living area and pulled off his pants and shirt. Stepping down into the hot bath, h thought he should get the doctors to look at his shoulder that was misbehaving, but it had to wait, he needed this ritual to cleanse himself from battle. It was more than to wash off the dried blood and grime, it was like washing off the battle itself. As if the water had rejuvenating abilities and he was born again when he arose.
"Husband?" Lady Jaqueline asked softly, coming over to the bath carrying a bar of soap. "You never answered me, was your campaign victorious?"
"Yes." Shepard said. Closing his eyes again, he leaned forward so Lady Jaqueline could wash his back.
"You didn't escape without wounds I see," She said carefully soaping up his back, neck and hair.
"One never does, dear wife." He answered closing his eyes in bliss as her long fingers worked his scalp.
"I think some of them are infected," She stated. Shepard chose to ignore it, and just enjoy the soft touch. Lady Jaqueline took a deep breath and said, "John?"
"What is a matter my dear?" Shepard mumbled.
"Did you get a chance to talk to the King? About you know..."
"I am beginning to wonder if you really want this or not." Lady Jaqueline said, finally abandoning her massage.
"Oh Jacqueline, my dear, dear wife," Shepard sighed, finally opening his eyes and looking over at his wife sitting in a chair next to the bathtub. "I want to ask him, but it's just never the right moment." Lady Jaqueline opened her mouth to say something but Shepard held up a hand to silence her, "Believe me, the battlefield is not the right place for such a talk."
Lady Jaqueline frowned, "It's never the right place for that talk, is it?" She sneered.
Shepard groaned, and Lady Jaqueline got up and stomped out of the room angrily. Shepard didn't call out for her, he knew she'd come around eventually, and really she was right. He had promised to ask the King for an application, signed by him, allowing them to have a child. Surely, the ministry for family affairs wouldn't deny it with the King's signature on it. Shepard closed his eyes frowning, he wasn't even sure how she roped him into asking for something like that, he must have been drunk and she must have been doing wicked things to him. She knew he'd agree to anything if she did it just right. It angered him that he had been tricked into asking the King for something like this, but on the other hand, he knew that Lady Jaqueline really wanted a child. Truthfully, he had been postponing it, he knew how rare it was that a biotic was allowed a child, even if they filed application after application. He was quite sure that Lady Jaqueline knew this too, and what if she was denied her wish, even with the Kings signature? Then what? Would she demand that they leave the comforts of court and go back to where she was born and lived in hiding to have an illegal child? Would she just leave him if she didn't get her permit? He didn't know, but he knew he had to do something, and whatever happened, happened.
Shepard got out of the water and stepped across the floor, getting water all over Lady Jaqueline's damn expensive carpets, but he couldn't care less. He got dressed with his head full of thoughts, what if the ABM had agents in the ministry of family affairs, then all applying was futile. Just a couple of years ago the ABM had seemed like a group of crazy bigots, but they had all underestimated that people who don't know better tend to fear what they do not understand. No one understood why some people were born with biotic powers and some were not. The ABM wanted to account for all biotics, and the first time they had suggested that, most people had laughed and thought it ridiculous, but it was a reality now. The ABM really wanted to register all biotics, starting in the small, making sure they had to register or their entire family would be fined heavily. As a registered biotic you had to ask for permission to procreate, because what if your child had the 'gift' as well? No one knew how this carried over, if it was just a freak of nature, or if it was hereditary. Shepard buttoned up his shirt and pulled out a pair of soft boots from the dresser. It felt heavenly to wear something that was light and soft, now that he had been wearing that battle armor for so long.
The night was cold for summer time, but the great halls were like an oven. People were laughing, dancing, and sweating, all in a room without any real air. Shepard almost wished he could return outside, when one of the other commanders saw him and he was caught up in polite greetings on his way to the table overflowing with food and wine. He chatted and laughed, while eating, actively ignoring his wife's angry glare from across the room.
Shepard did not notice a different pair of brown eyes following his every move from the shadows. With a soft puzzled little smile, Kaidan wondered how the Knight-Commander's wife could be upset with him, he just returned from battle like a hero, shining brighter than a star. Kaidan watched as a beautiful young man came and filled the Knight-Commander's glass. He noticed the smile they exchanged and it made him look away. It stirred something in his chest, it was all too familiar and spoke of an intimacy that Kaidan didn't know, but still it intrigued him. He watched as the Knight-Commander bowed for a lady and then hauled her into the dance, what Kaidan wouldn't give to dance like that again, with the ease and entitlement that the Knight-Commander did.
"Brother Alenko." The man next to Kaidan said, "It's getting late, we should return to the temple."
"Yes," Kaidan said softly. He knew he was torturing himself by hiding here in the back, staring at the Knight-Commander. He would be a liar if he didn't admit that he was glad that he returned to court unharmed, and that he worried how many times he would do that. Someday his day would come, like Kaidan's father had said when Kaidan was a child, 'live by the sword, die by the sword, my son.' and in those words lay the wish that he'd much rather see his sons turn into politicians and scholars than soldiers.
Shepard had noticed from the corner of his eye that Lady Jaqueline had left the feast. It made him relax a little since it seemed like she would not continue their discussion here in the midst of court. He was falling down tired, but he would wait a little longer, have another drink and hope she would be asleep when he got back to their chambers. He took his glass and went outside to the courtyard to get some cooler air. Two priests walked across the yard, he nodded and smiled as he sat down on a stone bench, resting his feet.
"Knight-Commander?" One of the priests said, making Shepard look up, "Welcome back, and congratulations on the victory."
Shepard smiled, "Thank you, brother. But it's hardly my glory, there was an entire army, and his Majesty is quite a skilled swordsman as well."
"Oh I didn't mean to offend Sir, I just - "
"Do not worry Brother, you didn't offend," Shepard said with an amused grin. "Thank you for your concern, it is very kind of you." He took a sip of his wine.
"There you Knight-Commander." The young man from the feast said with a little out of breath grin, sitting down on the bench next to Shepard.
"Here I am," Shepard stated with a drunken grin. "I was just having a conversation with brother, uhm.." He gestured towards Kaidan.
"Alenko, Sir." Kaidan said.
"Brother Alenko." Shepard repeated, "And he has shown more genuine concern for my person, than anyone else around here has, including my wife. And I am guessing what brings you out here isn't concern for my wellbeing either." He raised one eyebrow, staring directly at the young man.
"Sort of," The young man said. "But I came with more of a healing of the soul, request."
"Ah." Shepard said with an amused shake of his head, "So you think you'd be better at soothing my troubled soul than a priest?"
"Yes," The young man said. "Because I know what you need," He smiled knowingly. "And want."
"True." Shepard grinned, he turned to Kaidan and smiled. "Forgive me brother, you lost me to temptation." He stood up from the bench and placed a hand on Kaidan's shoulder. "I bid you a goodnight Brother, and I honestly appreciate your concern."
"You are welcome Knight-Commander, sir." Kaidan mumbled, hoping that the night would disguise his discomfort of the situation.
"Come, Shepard," The young man grinned, grabbing Shepard's hand hauling him off. "You can come too if you want to priest!" The young man called.
Kaidan just looked away and started to walk back to the temple, his cheeks ablaze.
"Must you torment the poor man?" Shepard argued behind Kaidan.
"I wasn't tormenting him, it was a serious offer." The young man laughed.
Shepard had not been waiting for long when the guard called for him to enter the Kings chambers. He did not know what the King wished of him, he hoped it was not a new campaign so soon, his entire body still felt like it had gone through a wringer, and Lady Jaqueline was still upset with him. If he left now for more glory on the battlefield, he was not sure she would remain at his side, and wait for his return. DE put those thoughts aside and bowed as he saw the King sit at his table, idly picking at some food. "Your, Majesty," Shepard said.
"Ah, Shepard, Come sit," King James gestured to Shepard to take the seat opposite him. "I trust your return was welcome."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Shepard said with a careful smile.
James laughed softly. "Any soldier loves his duty on the battlefield, but loves the brief downtime even more." He took a sip from his cup. "Shepard I called on you because I have a task for you, one which I can trust to none else."
"It's the Queen, she is not happy. I believe some time away from court will do her good," James said with a sigh. "The doctors say that time in the countryside might aid her fertility, and I want my future heirs' mother to be healthy."
"Naturally, my King," Shepard said, wondering if now would be a good time to present Jaqueline's petition, but he decided against it because King James looked so tired and worried. Naturally, he was worried that his beautiful wife had not yet given him an heir, they had been married for two years and people were starting to wonder. He needed an heir, and Shepard knew this. Much was at stake for the Queen, and to Shepard it seemed that the King genuinely loved the Queen, so of course he felt torn because eventually he would have to get himself another wife should the Queen turn out to be barren. A Queen did not have many goals in life or chores that she had to see through, her only tasks were to look pretty, and carry heirs for her King. Queen Miranda was pretty, but that did not help her much if she was unable to carry heirs for her King. Shepard could tell that his King felt conflicted about all this, and just gave him a sympathetic smile when he could have spoken on Jaqueline's behalf. "What do you need of me?"
"I need you to escort the Queen to her uncle's summer residence, maybe some time of quiet and sun will do her some good," King James said as he pushed the plate away.
"Yes, my King," Shepard said. "When do you wish for me to depart?"
"Tomorrow morning," The King said. "I have yet to tell the Queen." His smile was amused, but his eyes were sad.
"Do not worry, my King, I will safeguard her to her uncle's summer residence, and see to it that she settles before I return," Shepard stated with a steady voice.
"I knew I could count on you, Shepard," King James said with a relieved sigh. "I will make sure your wife is compensated with gifts."
"Thank you, your majesty," Shepard said with a heartfelt smile. Maybe Lady Jaqueline would forgive him just a little bit.
"I know wives," King James said, getting up from his chair. He walked over to a cabinet, Shepard just watched as he brought back a beautiful necklace. "Give this to her, and tell her that she will be given more upon your departure."
"It is beautiful, Your Majesty," Shepard said holding out his hand to receive the necklace, studying it. "Thank you and bless you my King," He said as he closed his fingers around the necklace.
"I will see you and the Queen off tomorrow," The King said. "Thank you, Shepard."
Shepard studied the necklace as he walked back to his private chambers, a necklace however beautiful would probably not soothe Lady Jaqueline's anger, but the King had given him a task, and he was going to see it through no matter if his wife liked it or not. He opened the door and saw her sit there alone writing something he could only assume was a journal or a letter. "Darling?" He called out. "Could we have some civilized words?"
"Of course," Lady Jaqueline said, turning around to face him. "You come from the King?"
"I do," Shepard said, holding out his hand with the necklace. "He gave me this to give to you."
"Truthfully?" Lady Jaqueline gave her husband with a suspicious glare.
"Cross my heart," Shepard said stepping around his wife to dress her in the necklace. Closing the clasp, he wrapped his arms around her, and rested his chin on her shoulder. "There is something I must tell you, this gift does not come without strings, please don't be upset with me, King James gave you this gift to soothe your temper so you might forgive me for leaving again, when I only just arrived."
Lady Jaqueline sighed. "Did you talk to him about the application?"
"It slipped my mind," Shepard said, knowing that his lie sounded weak, even to him. "Please, darling, don't be mad, I will be back soon. And when I report back to the King, I will remember to ask him."
"John?" Lady Jaqueline turned in her seat, looking straight at her husband. "Tell me the truth, do you even want a child? Or are you just humoring me?"
"Oh Jaqueline, where do those dark thoughts come from? Of course I want a child." He kissed her jaw. "I want to watch you grow heavy with my son." He kissed her neck. "We will be a family, trust me."
"I do," Lady Jaqueline closed her eyes and relaxed in Shepard's arms. "I love you."
"I love you too," Shepard mumbled.
"Stop," Lady Jaqueline whispered, pushing Shepard's hand away as he pushed her dress up to access her thighs under all the fabric. "Stop!"
Shepard sighed and removed his hand, resting his forehead against her shoulder. "We could -"
"No," She said. "I told you, get the -"
"I know," Shepard sighed deeper. He knew that Lady Jaqueline was deadly afraid of getting pregnant, and if they did not have the application, she could risk imprisonment and her pregnancy terminated. In addition, should their application for a child be denied, and she got pregnant anyway, she would destroy them all. Such was the power of those few members of the ABM, who were in the ministry of family, and the ministry of crime and punishment. Not to mention those in national affairs. It was a desperate situation, which in the end meant that they both ignored the lovers they each kept, when all Shepard really wanted, was his wife. He understood perfectly why she would invite a lady from the court or two to her bed, he left her alone for far too long when he was on campaigns. In turn he turned all his frustration elsewhere, be it a lover in bed, or a foe to kill with his sword. "If you'd only let me-."
"No," Lady Jaqueline said twisting out of Shepard's arms and got to her feet. "So where does this task take you? And how long will you be gone this time?"
Shepard slipped into her abandoned chair, adjusting his pants a little, as he sat. "I am to escort the Queen. And I do not know when I will be back."
Lady Jaqueline sighed but studied her mirror image with the necklace in the mirror. "It's a beautiful necklace."
"Yes," Shepard said. "It suits you perfectly." He smiled at his wife.
"Flatterer," Lady Jaqueline smiled at the mirror image of Shepard behind her. "When will you leave?"
"Tomorrow morning," Shepard said.
"Fine," Lady Jaqueline said, but her expression gave away that she was not okay with it.
Shepard looked down at his feet. "What if I promise to go talk to the Senior Priest? I know he is against the ABM, and maybe he can help with smoothing the process. Surely not all in the ministry of family affairs can be against us."
"You are right," Lady Jaqueline said. "Yes, try that, maybe the Senior Priest will help."
Kaidan was helping a brother take away the used candles in the temple, and light new ones, when he heard the Senior Priest arguing with someone in hushed angry voices. He looked around the corner and saw the back of a man he knew well, he looked over at the brother quickly, before he tiptoed closer, candles in hand so it looked like he was working and not prying. Truth was he was curious about what could aggravate the Senior Priest so.
"Surely you can do something," Shepard argued.
"I can remind certain members of their humanity, which is all I can do Knight-Commander," the Senior Priest said, firmly.
Shepard growled angrily and shook his head. "Do you realize what this means? It means I cannot lay with my wife, it means that she has been angry with me for the last year at least because I failed to obtain an application for her. All she wants is a baby, and all I want is my wife. Surely you can understand that?"
The Senior Priest looked less than impressed but nodded. "I understand your dilemma Knight-Commander, but I already gave you my answer."
"Alright," Shepard said with a forced smile. "I would be forever grateful for whatever help you can provide, Your Holiness."
"Good day, Knight-Commander," the Senior Priest said.
"Good day, Your Holiness," Shepard said turning around and walking towards the exit, his hands balled up so tight his knuckles were white.
Shepard stood and waited for the Queen with her servants, the King arrived with her. Shepard smiled and bowed. "Your Majesties," He said, hearing the rustle of fabric that told him everyone else bowed with him.
"Knight-Commander," The Queen said. "Stand."
Shepard stood and held out his arm for the Queen to take it. "My Queen, it's not a long ride, there is nothing you should worry about."
"I am not worried, Knight-Commander," Queen Miranda said steering them towards her horse.
Shepard dared not look back at the King as he aided the Queen to her saddle. "Very well, my Queen, are you comfortable?"
"I am, can we leave?"
"Yes, my Queen," Shepard said and went for his own horse where King James stood waiting. "She did not take the news as well as I had hoped."
"I am sure she will forgive you as soon as she has rested, my King," Shepard said with a respectful bow.
"Let's hope so," King James said nodding. "Safe journey, Shepard. I know she is in the very best hands when you are here."
"I will protect her with my life, my King," Shepard said, and when the King did not say more, he mounted his horse, riding alongside the Queen out of the castle.
Queen Miranda's uncle was a councilman of the ministry of crime and punishment, and even Shepard thought he was intimidating. Lord Donnel Udina had a lifetime of politics behind him, and many years in front of him as well. He could sell you seawater on a sinking boat, and Shepard always both feared and admired men with silvered tongues like that. He had learned from his first encounters with court that you had to be careful around them, that much was certain.
Shepard made sure that the Queen's servants had settled in, but he had not seen the Queen since their arrival. "Sir?" A young maid called. "Sir?" Shepard turned around and smiled at her. "Yes? Is something amiss?"
"No sir, but the matron asks if you are hungry after your travels," The young maid nodded eagerly. "She wishes for you to come to the kitchens and get a serving of food and a glass of wine before you travel back to the royal court."
Shepard smiled wider. "Tell your matron that I am famished, and I would love to have some food."
"Thank you sir," The young maid said bowing and scurried back to the kitchen.
Shepard walked back to the kitchen, taking a bowl of food and a glass of wine, one of the kitchen maids offered him while the matron finished the pies she was preparing for dinner.
"How come you do not eat with the lordship?" The young maid asked, looking at Shepard.
"Seryna!" The matron hissed at her. "Leave the Knight-Commander to his meal."
"Forgive me, matron."
Shepard smiled at the girl again. "Because I am not one of them." He picked some chicken off his plate and ate it.
The young maid Seryna looked over her shoulder at the matron, and then sat down next to Shepard eager to hear more. "But you ride next to the Queen, and you are -"
"Seryna! I won't say it again," The matron yelled. "I am sorry Knight-Commander, she is a simple girl and has the mind of a wet rock, but works like a horse."
Shepard laughed softly. "I don't mind." He turned to Seryna. "All those lords and ladies in there," He nodded towards the door. "They are all lords by blood, their titles were passed down to them." He sipped his wine. "I am just a servant, much like you. So I eat in the kitchen."
"Oh?" Seryna looked puzzled, but accepted the answer.
"Forgive me for asking Knight-Commander, but do you know when you return to the royal courts? I need to know if I should make another bed for the night," The matron asked, wiping her hands in her apron.
"I plan on returning tonight, there is no need for you to make a bed for me," Shepard smiled.
Shepard finished his meal and went to the stables to have someone ready his horse. Then he went in search of Lord Udina or the Queen to announce that he was leaving. He could hear music and figured that he would find them there. All those fancy rooms with pretty paintings and heavy drapes always made him feel out of place, he stood in the door for a little while just listening to the music. Lord Udina turned his head when he noticed Shepard in the doorframe. "Knight-Commander Shepard, come sit."
"My Lord," Shepard said, inching into the room. "Forgive me for intruding, but I came to announce my departure."
"Departure?" Queen Miranda asked surprised. "You are leaving?"
"Yes, my Queen, my task was to escort you here safely, and return." Shepard bowed at his Queen out of habit more than anything else.
"Don't," Queen Miranda said. "Stay for a few days, maybe the countryside would do you good as well." She nodded at her uncle. "Doesn't he look gaunt uncle? Can he stay some time before he must return to the court?"
Udina nodded, and Shepard smiled politely. "In that case, my Queen, my lords, I would be delighted."
"Great!" Queen Miranda smiled. "Come, let me take you to the matron, so she can make you a bed for your stay." She got up and took Shepard's arm, leading him out of the room.
Shepard was confused. "There is no need, my Queen, I know where to find the matron."
"Hush, Shepard," She smiled a friendly, intimate smile at the Knight-Commander as she used his name instead of title. "I was bored to tears in there."
"Oh..." Shepard chuckled. "in that case my Queen, carry on."
"Matron?!" Queen Miranda called, searching the kitchen. "Where is that damn woman? Matron!"
The Matron came out from the gardens with her hands full of dead chickens. "My Queen," She bowed.
"Aw come now Matron, you have known me since I was a little girl, there is no need for all that," Queen Miranda laughed merrily.
"People who forget proper etiquette can quickly find themselves on the gallows hill. Better safe than sorry." The Matron said, but shot Queen Miranda a motherly smile. "What will it be my dear?"
"My uncle and I persuaded the Knight-Commander to stay a few days. Could you have one of the girls make up a bed for him for a couple of nights?" Queen Miranda asked.
The Matron shot Shepard a glare but then smiled. "Of course my dear."
The first night Shepard felt bad because he had promised Lady Jaqueline he would be home as soon as possible, but on the other hand, who was he to deny his Queen his time? If she wanted him to stay, he would stay. However, as he walked outside that first day, the wind and sun on his face, he knew exactly why Queen Miranda had suggested it. It had been ages since he had last enjoyed the countryside, it had to be at least four years ago, before either he or King James married. Back when King James was more interested in hunting parties and loose women than war and politics. He missed those days, but he also knew that even if he did suggest King James go for a hunting trip for a few days with his old crew of mates, it would never be the same. They were all lords and politicians, and they had maybe in some aspects just grown up. Still he missed the times when they could afford to be just James and John, get shitfaced drunk and hunt deer. Not a worry in the world.
The last couple of years his life had been nothing but war, and the brief downtime between battles. In the two years he had been married to Lady Jaqueline, he had been at her side for maybe five months total. Had he known what it meant for them that she is a Biotic, would he still have married her? If he was being completely honest with himself, probably not. In the beginning, it had not really bothered either of them that they could not have conventional intercourse, they had just changed the rules in their marriage bed, and there were other ways of fucking than the most common. He could have died happy like that, he did not miss conventional intercourse, Lady Jaqueline was amazingly flexible and had the most wicked tongue he had ever met. Eventually she had stopped enjoying his touch, she had rejected his every advance, and grown more and more miserable. It had not dawned on him that she might feel like she was missing out on something, and the fear of pregnancy became the intense wish for a child. Shepard closed his eyes and just enjoyed the warmth of the sun on his face, when he returned from this trip he would give her what she wanted, and maybe then, she would not be so miserable.
"Good morning, Shepard," Queen Miranda said with a smile, sitting down next to him.
"My Queen," Shepard smiled and sat up. "What brings you out here?"
"Pardon me, but did you really go hunting with James when you were younger?" The Queen asked
"I did," Shepard said. "He is a gifted hunter, my Queen."
"So I heard, but I also heard from Lord Taylor, and Lord Cortez that so are you." Queen Miranda smiled knowingly. "Take me hunting, Shepard."
"Of course, my Queen," Shepard said.
"Come then," Queen Miranda took his hand again and hauled him off with her.
"Wait, wait," Shepard laughed. "A hunt takes preparation... we cannot just..."
"I already took care of that," Queen Miranda laughed. "I just needed you to come along."
"Cunning, my Queen," Shepard chuckled as he let her take him to the hunting party, which waited for them.
Three days passed and every day Queen Miranda and Shepard would venture out, exploring the woods. This day the Matron had packed a giant picnic basket that they brought along, since the Queen had planned on learning how to fish, and the lake was quite far way away.
As they rode through the forest Shepard felt almost melancholy, he was going to miss the freedom and the informality of this place when he returned to the castle.
"Say, can I ask you a personal question Shepard?" Queen Miranda asked.
"Yes, my Queen," Shepard said, looking over his shoulder at Queen Miranda that rode at his side.
"Why are you and the King estranged?"
"Oh," Shepard looked down at his hands holding the reins of his horse. "When the prince became the king, I became his loyal servant instead of -" He smiled sadly. "I love King James dearly and would still lay down my life for him, make no mistake, my Queen."
"Is that a threat?"
"Not the slightest my Queen, it's a statement." He nodded to himself.
"Do you ever miss him?" The Queen asked.
Shepard nodded, but did not vocalize it. The Queen looked up and down the seasoned soldier at her side. "How come you are not a lord with your own lands, like the rest of the Kings personal circle?"
Shepard chuckled. "I would be a terrible politician, and an even worse Lord." He looked over at the Queen who just shook her head amused. "Come now Shepard, the real reason," Shepard sighed. "Alright, I am not a noble, like the rest of them. That is why."
"You're not?" The Queen asked surprised, she had just never given it thought.
"No," Shepard stated. "The King's old wet-nurse adopted me, that is how I ended up in court."
"Interesting, so you were always a servant." She pondered upon this a little and then asked. "And your wife? Is she a commoner too?"
Shepard felt a weird pang of shame because Jaqueline would absolutely hate to be called a commoner. "Yes, she is the daughter of a merchant. But I beg you my Queen, do not tell anyone this, she would be absolutely devastated if this got out."
"At ease Shepard, we are just talking. You can trust me," Queen Miranda said softly.
Funny how at peace Shepard felt while lying there in the grass watching the horses trot about. He was hearing the birds and insects of the forest and nothing else. No stink like in the city, and no constant noise like at court. Just peace. For a short moment, he wondered if he should suggest to Lady Jaqueline to move far out into the countryside and raise their child. He could not imagine anything more idyllic and peaceful.
"This is the life," The Queen sighed.
Shepard chuckled and turned his head to look at Queen Miranda flat on her back to his right. "It is indeed lovely." Shepard bit his lip and sat up. "My Queen, would it be too much to ask you for a personal favor?" There! He has said it, if she said no he would just let it all rest, and accept it when Lady Jaqueline left him, because he was quite sure she would unless he solved the baby problem.
"Of course. Can't say I will grant it to you unless I hear what it is though."
"My wife… Shepard had to take a deep breath. "My wife is a Biotic, and all she wants is a child. We applied many times but either no answer was given or it was rejected for some procedural error. I have been meaning to ask the King for months, but the right time was just never there, he seems so troubled already and I did not want to trouble him with my personal issues. What I am asking of you my Queen, is would you please sign the application? Maybe they will let us through and grant Lady Jaqueline a permit for a child if it has your blessing, your signature on it."
Queen Miranda sat silent for a while, and then nodded. "Of course I will sign it for her if you just bring me the application."
"Thank you!" Shepard let out a breath he had been holding, waiting for an answer. He leaned in and took the wine, pouring them both another glass.
"Call me Miranda," Queen Miranda said.
"No, I can't my Queen," Shepard said handing her, her cup.
"Come now Shepard, who should hear us?" Miranda chuckled. "I want to hear you say it. Say my name."
Shepard looked up at her alarmed, but relaxed when he saw the soft slightly tipsy smile on her lips. Acting on an impulse, he reached over and took her hand, kissing her knuckles briefly. "My name is John, pleased to meet you, Miranda."
Queen Miranda laughed merrily. "Enchanté John." She held up her glass for him to toast. "To the King."
"To the King," Shepard echoed and toasted.
Queen Miranda wiped her mouth discreetly with the back of her hand. "How does your wife deal with you being gone for so long, when you accompany the King on campaigns?"
"She..." Shepard took a sip of his wine. "She takes lovers."
"And you allow this?"
"I do," Shepard said with a nod.
"I trust you do the same then?" Queen Miranda asked with a curious smile.
"On occasion," Shepard said with a slight embarrassed smile. "Why do you ask me that my Queen?"
"Forgot my name already?" Queen Miranda jested. "I ask you because..." She put down her cup and looked at Shepard. "Do you find me beautiful?"
"Ex-excuse me?" Shepard stammered.
Queen Miranda's smile widened. "If I were not married, would you find me beautiful? Would you seduce me and take me to bed?"
"I.. ehm." Shepard looked away from the Queen. "Please my Queen, don't make me answer that."
"But I am," Queen Miranda insisted. "Did I grow out of my youth? Please Shepard I have to know, and I don't know any other men I could ask."
"You are a very beautiful woman, my Queen," Shepard said. "You have nothing to worry about."
"Thank you Shepard," Queen Miranda said.
"Can I ask why you'd ask me that, my Queen?" Shepard asked curiously, sipping his wine.
"You trusted me, I will trust you," Queen Miranda paused and locked gaze with Shepard. "The king has lost interest in me, and I don't know what I did wrong." She blinked fat tears from her eyes, born from months of keeping it inside, and alcohol.
Shepard froze for a second, not sure what to do with a crying Queen. He figured that besides her title she was a woman like any other, so he shifted his seat to come closer to her, gently wiping tears off her cheeks. "I am sure he is just preoccupied, my Queen," He said softly. "He loves you dearly, I am sure of it."
"Then why did he send me from his side?" Queen Miranda cried.
"Because he was sure that life at court made you miserable," Shepard said softly, sucking in his breath as the Queen leaned against him, crying against his chest. He wrapped a stiff arm around her, constantly aware that she could be a cunning vixen whom tested his loyalty or... Would she be crying her heart out against his shirt? He did not think so.
"What will happen when he discovers that I am barren?" She cried. "He will take another wife, and then what will become of me?"
Shepard wrapped his arms around her, soothing her the best he could. "I do not know," Shepard mumbled, because he was all too aware that it mattered little how much love was between them if she could not preform her duties. They sat for a long time as Queen Miranda stopped crying. "Lady Jaqueline is lucky to have you."
"I'm not sure she would agree with you, my Queen," Shepard said softly. Shifting uncomfortably as Miranda pressed closer to him.
"You said I was beautiful," Queen Miranda said in a near whisper. "Do you desire me?"
"Please, my Queen," Shepard almost whined. "Any man in their right mind would desire you." Queen Miranda grabbed Shepard's wrist and placed his hand on her breast. Shepard was torn between knowing that he should escape this situation and wanting to feel the soft skin he was sure was under all that fabric. "It is a dangerous game you play my Queen," He whispered.
"I know," Queen Miranda whispered back, sighing blissfully as Shepard's hand slid her dress down over her shoulder, exposing her breast to the air and his exploring fingers.
As they rode home, Shepard knew he had to leave this very night, the Queen might not see this the same way he did, but he had let himself be tempted to go along with her desperate loneliness. She was not only the wife of his oldest friend, but she was also the Queen. She had not rejected him, but had spurred him on, he asked himself how he should have been able to withstand that, a beautiful lady like the Queen, hoisting up her dress and effortlessly guiding his cock inside her. A part of Shepard just wanted to tackle her off the horse and have another go.
"What is on your mind, Shepard?" Queen Miranda asked merrily.
"Oh just wondering what story we should come up with, when we arrive home without a single fish to show for it," Shepard said.
"Leave that to me," Queen Miranda said with a little smile.