Title: It's Always Autumn in the Old Trees of Despair
Author: Kodiak bear
Rating: M
Category: Drama
Warnings: This fic is dark, and the rating above should be taken seriously. While there is no non-con sexual situations, there is torture and disturbing content, so please take the warning seriously and if it is not your thing, you might want to pass on reading this story.
Summary: A trade agreement goes wrong. Sheppard is separated from his team, forced to live a life foreign and dangerous, while the rest of the team and Carson Beckett must cope with the events.

AN: This is a long fic, written for my friend Mandy who requested a dark fic wherein Sheppard is isolated, tortured, while his team begins to believe the worst in him. I know my vision is probably not what she had, but hopefully at the end, I will have achieved something just as good! Thanks to Shelly and Linzi for keeping me going on this fic! Also, I'm writing the ending currently so I am going to get posting the parts slowly. There are some parts of this story that had special fonts, the fic is also archived on my livejournal with that special formatting.

It's Always Autumn in the Old Trees of Despair

By Kodiak bear

The small blue bird flew obliquely towards the rising building ahead. Free of the trees, wings beat the air powerfully, and the small avian suddenly angled up, up and skimmed, belly to stone, around the old, ivy covered building, oblivious to the humans and their conversations.

Inside, "Colonel, why have you come here? We did not ask your people to our world."

John wanted to say that he hadn't asked to be captured, disarmed and have his team thrown into a cell, either, but shit happens. "I've already told you, we're looking for allies against the Wraith."

This leader of men, women, children and a village decimated to nothing more than a ghost of glory, sat on a throne of stone. A crown of gold leaves, reaching for the one before, rested on his head; dark brown hair already turning to silver. With a hand clutching the edge of the arm, he leaned forward, studying Sheppard. "You saw from the time you left the Stargate that we have nothing to offer as allies. We are beaten, ground to dust beneath the wraith's feeding hand."

"But we can help. You have food – we always need to eat." Sheppard wished Teyla was up here instead of in the cell because this was really her area. He had tried to stay out of the bartering as much as possible after the debacle with the Genii and C-4. If a leader says, "We need this," Sheppard was too easily swayed to offer things that he shouldn't, even knowing what he did now – treachery was a practiced art around here, on a galactic scale, because death was a heartbeat away, for everyone.

In an audience room where the atmosphere felt as cold as the brightly mosaic tiled floor, Sheppard would've thought it impossible to get any colder, yet Naem lowered it to sub-zero with his chilling gaze that felt as if it went straight through John, searching out secrets that Sheppard would tell over his dead body.

"You talked to my people."

Trade agreements for food were important, but so were their lives, and Sheppard was beginning to believe the leader in front of him was a danger towards that end. "Well, you see, they asked some questions." He rested his hands loosely on his hips, going for non-threatening. "We answered them."

Gauzy curtains of black, covering floor to ceiling windows along both walls, danced in the breeze. Black to help heat the throne room, and completely ineffective, because this room might have large murals of brightly painted fields of gold, and silver waterfalls, yet it still carried the air of a dungeon. People, they create atmospheres of their own, and Naem was creating a very unhealthy one to Sheppard's way of thinking. The man's eyes narrowed on him like a hawk.

The king slid from his seat, waved off his personal assistant (least, that's what John assumed the person was), and stepped down the three-tiered dais. It wasn't like there were a lot of places for him to go, but the elevated platform that held the throne was backed against a portion of wall that was forward from the rest of the room, and on either side, columns of something – marble, maybe –were entrances to a rear exit, or another antechamber.

Naem wore a subtle outfit considering his position, mused John, keeping his cursory examination of the would-be adversary as discreet as possible. There are different kinds of people, and he wondered what kind was Naem. Was he the kind that was flashy for show, but empty underneath? Or maybe he was the kind that dressed with purpose, to portray their core, forceful outside and in. Those were the most dangerous, unpredictable.

This king, he was on the wrong side of middle age, but he radiated a strength that still remained, and that worried Sheppard, because every vibe he was getting screamed 'Danger, John Sheppard, Danger'. The burgundy tunic fell from shoulders to knees, and there wasn't an ounce of fat to break the straight lines of cloth. The pants were black, like the curtains that blew up from the floor with the gusts of wind, but made from the same fabric as the tunic. Braids of gold stitched patterns on the shoulders, hem, and wrists of the tunic. It smacked of power, and just served to make Sheppard that much more uneasy.

Walk softly in the woods of autumn, because danger hears your approach.

And he had a sinking feeling he hadn't walked soft enough.


Naem walked through the village streets, guards surrounding him, keeping him safe from the desperate. His kingdom, his people – reduced to rabble, and he hadn't been able to save them, or do anything to keep the wraith from doing terrible damage. The rebuilding was going on everywhere he looked. Stone was patched, buildings too far gone to be repaired, torn down for new to be built, but where before there had been thousands of villagers, now there were hundreds.

He stopped to console the broken. A woman, her name was irrelevant, cried about her lost husband and how she no longer had anyone to work her fields and repair her home. Two ragged children were latched onto her skirt, staring hungrily up at Naem. As if the king could wave a magic wand and bring her husband back, or create someone new to work her plow.

The impotent rage at having nothing to give, no answer to the uncertain future, made him turn and stride away. Everywhere he went, it was the same. Sometimes it was a husband left, sometimes, all that was left, were the children. He would nod to his guard, then, and have them brought to his manse on the hill. Enough orphans could be cared for by his servants, and the older ones could help watch and raise the younger children. Being able to do something felt better than nothing.

But as he returned to his home, he couldn't forget the look in the woman's eyes as she silently accused him for every horror she'd suffered. He was their king, their protector, and in the end, it hadn't meant anything, because a crown of golden leaves doesn't impress the wraith.

It was that afternoon that this man, this Colonel Sheppard, arrived with his team of four, and bearing promises of relief for nothing more than a trade agreement. By the time Naem had his team brought to the manse, the leader brought to him while the other three remained in a cell, he knew the damage had been done. His people were looking for any answer to ease their misery, and this Sheppard had given them something Naem hadn't been able to – hope.

"You were not given permission to offer false hope to my people." Naem stared at the dark-haired, lithe panther of a man that stood ready in front of him. His eyes assessed Sheppard for what he was, and Naem held no misassumptions. This man was dangerous, calculating, and capable of doing what he had to.

"Who's offering false hope?" He didn't move as Naem did when the king circled him; instead, Sheppard stayed still, focused on the throne. "Look, Your Majesty, we can help your people. I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true."

Naem's eyes flicked over to those of his guards and he saw the interest. Turning, and striding back to his throne, Naem knew this was a serious situation. His people's faith in him was already suffering. Now, this stranger arrives with gilded promises, that no matter how false they might be, the desperate never saw reason. His people looked to him to protect them, but the wraith weren't the only ones capable of doing damage. "If I agree to open talks, what assurances do I have that your people are not going to betray us? To take our crops and give us nothing in return?" Naem asked, his voice echoing off the walls, as he turned, and sat.

"We wouldn't do that," Sheppard insisted.

"All I have is your word." Naem lifted the cup off the small ornate table by his throne and sipped the liquid. "It's not enough." Hospitality would've dictated providing guests with refreshments, beds, and pleasant conversation, but Naem wasn't interested in hospitality. He wanted to restore his people's faith in him as a ruler. He could do his job as their ruler, and he would.

The panther, he considered Naem's declaration before offering his own solution. "Come back with us. You can meet my leader, and see who we are, and what we have to offer."

"I'll allow your people to bring her here." Naem wasn't stupid. He went through that Stargate to their world and his people would be left for the taking.

Sheppard's face grew inscrutable, but he eventually nodded. "Fair enough, but I can't promise she'll accept. She tends to stay close to home," he explained. "For safety."

Naem understood. He waved a guard over. "Escort Sheppard and the others to the Stargate. Let them leave unmolested." He stood, feeling more tired than he had in a long time. "Colonel Sheppard, you and your people may leave. Talk to your leader. If she agrees, return and we will talk."


Sheppard was pretty sure this was what it felt like to receive a last minute stay from the executioner. He'd been convinced Naem wasn't going to let them go, and they'd either need a miracle, or a rescue, and maybe even both.

He was escorted to a cell on the lower level. There were stairs that led down, into a dark hall that was only lit by torches. It was clean, but stagnant, with no windows to circulate fresh air. There were wooden doors nestled in the stone, and he was marched past three before they stopped at one. The guard shot John a look that said stay, and he withdrew a leather strap of keys, unlocking the door with clumsy hands, enough so that Sheppard thought these cells didn't get a lot of use. Again, it conflicted with what he'd seen. Naem was dangerous, and the thought of people being unfairly imprisoned for speaking against him had popped into Sheppard's head easily enough, but the evidence said his assumption was wrong.

He'd been separated from his team not long after they'd been escorted into the cell. The guard jerked his head at the three familiar figures to move out. Rodney came first, opening his mouth to say something, but Sheppard cut him off. "Good to see you're still alive."

"Yes, well, same to you." McKay's grumble was only a little bit harsh.

Teyla's smile was heartfelt. "Colonel, we were worried."

Ronon didn't say anything, because he was too busy intimidating the guard.

"I'm fine," Sheppard assured them. "And this man is going to be nice and escort us to the 'gate."

He could see they all had questions, but two servants arrived with their gear, and everyone got busy with putting their tac vests, holsters and weapons on. Once they were suited, they followed the guard up the steps the same way they'd gone down, and John wondered if there were other exits. The trip to the 'gate wasn't long. Not wanting to let on about where they came from, John sent Rodney to the DHD while he stepped in the guard's line of sight. "Tell your king we'll be in touch."

The man nodded, not saying anything, but Sheppard could see the curiosity in his eyes, before the guard turned and walked away, his duty done.

The burning question remained within Sheppard. What was he going to say to Elizabeth?


In the end, he settled for laying the cards out on the table, and letting Weir decide. He explained his uneasiness about Naem, but confessed the cells were empty, the guard not familiar enough with the keys to unlock the door without fumbling. She said actions speak louder than words. Naem might be dangerous, but he was probably a leader trying to protect his people as best he could. John didn't fail to notice the sympathetic look on her face when she'd said it.

They returned, with a larger escort of Lorne and his team, along with John's. Naem greeted them with the same wariness as before, and there was something there in his posture or face, that by the time the agreement was reached, Sheppard was more bothered than ever. They'd trade tools to make farming easier, medicines to help keep those people left alive, healthy. In return, they'd get a fifth of the total harvest. No weapons, Elizabeth hadn't even let it be brought to the table, and for once, Sheppard agreed.

They also agreed to make regular visits, to ensure the people were learning to use the equipment without any problems, and the medicines were working. The visiting team would be either Lorne's team and a doctor, or Sheppard's team and a doctor. Naem had insisted; he didn't want anyone new coming through that 'gate. When they left the next day, John couldn't shake the uneasiness that infected him to the marrow in his bones. Something was wrong here, and he couldn't put a finger on what.


Naem couldn't find fault, as much as he had wanted, with the newcomer's proposal. This Elizabeth Weir, he had watched her through the candlelight dinner, and saw her for the truth that she was. She had ate without reservation, talked pleasantly with his guards, servants, and earlier, with the villagers as she toured the recovering town. She had hugged children, and women, and shook men's hands, and even hugged one of them, when Rolos had broken down after the conversation had taken an unexpected turn into the culling of his wife and son. Naem had turned away, feeling every ounce the bitter taste of ashes, the failure to protect his people.

Weir's people – they had weapons to defeat the wraith, to protect their own, and yet, they offered nothing more than help with cultivating the land and treating the sick. In the eyes of his people, Naem could tell that it was all these newcomers needed to do, to win his people over. They saw Elizabeth Weir and Colonel Sheppard as mythical bearers of a safe future. Naem saw them as a means to an end. They would help tend the wounds of his people, help them recover, but he would not stop watching, because these were his people. He was their king, and failure once did not mean he would fail again.

They left the next morning, and he toured the town after. Saw the shining faces, joking conversations, and felt it like a slap in his face. He had been unable to inspire this change, even though he had tried. Naem was growing old, the last of his family, and soon he would be gone, with no one left to fill his position. The rulership was passed from father to son, or, father to daughter, and likewise could be passed from mother to son, or daughter. He had been the last to survive.

Naem had married once, and she had died bringing forth a child that had only lived for ten days after his mother -- Jaem. He had been beautiful, and had eased Naem's torment, made it bearable, and waking to find the healer crying and holding Jaem's lifeless body had sealed the despair into the capsule that was his heart; always present, always festering -- always hurting.

The pain had caused him to become a prisoner in his own manse. He had vowed to never love another woman, or create another child. Naem regretted it now, in the autumn of his days, with no successor, and nothing to give his people. Perhaps that was where he had wronged them, giving them nothing to believe in, the monarchy at an end, and no one knew what would happen when Naem went to meet their maker. In all the recorded histories, never before had a ruler passed without an heir, not even with the wraith, because the royal family had a secret place, and only the personal guards knew of its location.

The first monthly visit was the team under the command of Major Lorne. The man was greeted warmly enough by Naem's people. He had a doctor that lined up all the children and examined them, treated a few for conditions that he said would become life-threatening, but Naem could not see anything wrong with them. The equipment given to help the crops was checked for damage and any questions were answered. It went without any problems, but Naem was left more unsettled.

His people were beginning to look at Sheppard's people as Gods. Capable of solving all their problems, and it created a cold pit deep in his gut, one that he had not felt since Sareal died. Naem was being usurped by a people not even of his world. His guards walked with him through the town on his regular visits, but those waiting to greet him dwindled. By the time the next team returned, only a few of his people waited to see him, to be blessed.

It was Sheppard. He walked the streets of Naem's town, was greeted with worship and praise. The children flocked to his feet, to all of them, wanting to hear stories of their fight with the wraith, and where they came from, but on that, Sheppard's people were vague and would never say, and it made Naem feel all the more suspicious. Was this a new plot? To garner his people into lowering their defenses, so that they could eventually take Naem's people without bloodshed to show for it? Was this going to be treachery and more pain?

Naem watched from the road, his guards standing loyally beside him. The doctor wasn't the same as before, but this man seemed even more genial with the children than the woman before had. He checked those that had been singled out for treatment and said they were doing fine, but Naem believed there had never been anything wrong, it was just another ploy to endear these strangers to his people, to gain their love. He had seen enough, and turning, he walked to his manse, a plan forming even as his steps carried him automatically down the path his feet knew so well.


Sheppard hadn't wanted to return to P6X-371, but it was his team's turn, and besides, Lorne's team had been off world somewhere else, doing another meet and greet. He assured Beckett it was safe, but couldn't shake the aftertaste of his first meeting with Naem. It'd been all he could do not to call this off. Rodney had sensed his brooding and responded with his own, swearing that they were going to get culled or something when they were there. Teyla pointed out the world had been culled two months ago and wasn't likely to be again for a while. Ronon had grimaced and muttered, "Unless another Hive ship invades the other's territory."

Something they all knew was a possibility.

The townsfolk greeted them warmly, like before. It was the one thing John did trust; that their presence here, what they offered, was making a difference. They had questions about the new plows, and the chemicals that killed stumps, making them easier to get out of the ground. The kids begged to hear stories of their missions against the wraith. Some of the adults, too.

The day passed in a whirlwind of helping, talking, and playing. Sheppard showed the kids how to play soccer with a ball they'd made out of animal hide, while Rodney gathered up other kids and demonstrated what happened when you added water to an acid. Beckett scolded him about safety, but Rodney had found a niche with these kids, unlike others, because these wanted to learn about science.

Teyla and Ronon had offered to show fighting techniques, both of them knowing it wouldn't make a difference against the wraith, but it made the people here feel that much more hopeful, and hope wasn't something John was interested in taking away. Worlds like this, it was all they had.

That night, Naem joined them for dinner. Sheppard felt the king's eyes on him and tried to convey his worries to Ronon, but the runner and Teyla were engrossed in conversation. John hadn't shared his reservations about Naem to either of them, because he'd aired them at the top, with Elizabeth, and now he regretted that choice. He got the feeling the king was planning something and John didn't know how, or why, or even what Naem hoped to accomplish, but he definitely got the feeling something was going down, and he hated being left out of the loop.

The food was good, the drinks, more so. By the time the dinner was finished, John began to think he'd get a lucky break, because it'd all passed without any interruptions or complications. The party broke up, and the townsfolk broke away to their individual homes, while Sheppard led his team and Beckett to the bungalow they'd been given for the night. It'd belonged to a young couple that had been culled together, and John couldn't shake the creepiness he felt in it. For all he knew, these guys were still alive in a Hive ship, cocooned, waiting to be fed upon.

When he made sure everyone was safely in, he barred the door, and set watch, himself first. Sheppard shrugged out of his jacket but kept his P90 on hand, propping himself at the table; his feet kicked against the carved chair, arm leaning on the smooth planks of the table. The fire had been lit by a villager, seeing how it was autumn here, and the nights carried more of a chill than the day. When John grew sleepy, he felt the first niggle of alarm. It wasn't that he didn't ever get sleepy on watch, sure, he had a million times before, but this time, when he tried to get up, his limbs didn't move with their usual coordination. Everything seemed fuzzy, and disconnected.

Drugged – he'd been drugged!

The little house had two bedrooms; behind one door was Ronon and McKay; in the other, slept Beckett and Teyla. John tried to make it, but halfway there, he fell to his knees. That's when he realized he'd left his gun at the table, and the door was being broken, the sounds of fire burning in the background of his mind, before he slumped into unconsciousness.


Elizabeth couldn't process what she was hearing. John, dead? The others – taken by the Wraith?

Naem's voice was harsh over the radio as he reported the death toll from the latest culling. They'd been caught unaware at night. Twenty seven of his people, gone. His guards had been there, on patrol, but they hadn't been able to do any good with swords. There was no body to return, the fire had collapsed the small house on top of him, and the king could only report on what he'd been told second hand.

The attack had begun after everyone had gone to sleep. Buildings began to burn after the strafing runs from the Wraith ships, people still in them, and those that woke, tried desperately to rescue those that hadn't. Sheppard had dragged all four members of his team from the burning bungalow, only to run back in, for what, Naem couldn't guess, and then the wooden roof had collapsed; the inferno burned everything inside to ashes. The outer stone had acted like a kiln, the fuel within -- furniture, wooden shelving, doors and firewood stacked inside for easier reach -- made the heat unbearable.

"I'm sorry, Doctor Weir, for the loss of your people, but we are no longer able to uphold our end of the trade agreement. Further, we have decided to barricade our Stargate, so that the Wraith will have one less avenue to continue their destruction. Please do not send anyone through, as they will be killed on impact." The audio feed had ended, the wormhole shut down, and Elizabeth had turned away from the tech, and walked into her office, not saying a word.

Carson, Rodney, Teyla, Ronon and Sheppard – lost, and Naem expected her to buy his story without even a thought.

This king did not know them half so well as he thought. Her hands were tied until the Daedalus returned in a little over a month. She'd order a MALP sent through after Lorne was ready, but she believed Naem would follow through on blocking their gate.

When Caldwell arrived, she'd personally pay a visit to Naem, and find out what had happened to her people. Until then, she was going to list them as missing in action, not killed, despite Naem's claims of John's demise. Never that, not until she had the undeniable proof in front of her.

She brought up the form on her laptop, and began typing the names, entering the date and status: MIA.

It wasn't until she'd finished all five records that she closed the program, turned to face the wall, and crammed a knuckle against her teeth, trying to keep it together. Her rage mingled equally with her fear. They'd been lost before, many times over, and she'd believed Sheppard dead, also, only for him to return, time and time again. This wouldn't be any different. It wouldn't.


"Where's my team?" rasped Sheppard.

He'd woken, unrestrained, in a room that he didn't recognize, but judging from the massive gray blocks of stone, expertly smoothed mortar, rugs and wall hangings – he had a pretty good idea. Naem's manse, and in some private room, at that.

The guard remained silent, standing to the side of the door. He had his hand on the scabbard of his sword, and the cold eyes let Sheppard know the guard would use it if he had to.

The bed he was on was soft, silk sheets, the blanket was thick and Sheppard guessed it was pretty warm and luxurious at night. If he hadn't felt sick from whatever they'd drugged him with, he might've been impressed, but as it was, he was just pissed. There was a privacy screen in the far corner. Ornate trees, bare of their summer cover, had been painted on a beige background, broad strokes, so that the trunk began at the floor, and the branches almost touched the ceiling. Guessing at what was behind, John rolled from the bed, fought back the queasiness that rolled with him, and shuffled behind, needing to relieve himself or be embarrassed more than the whole 'drugged by the aliens on another world' had already done.

When he finished, and had stepped around the screen into the main room again, he was even more irritated to find that Naem along with three more guards was there. The king watched his sluggish movements with the same hawk eyes he'd used on Sheppard every time they'd interacted, and even when they hadn't -- least, not directly. Naem had always watched him with wary consideration, and it was why Sheppard had never had a good feeling about any of this.

"Look – Your Majesty, I think there's been a misunderstanding." Yeah, the one where John went back to Atlantis and let Elizabeth consider making an agreement with Naem in the first place, but what's done is done.

Naem was wearing a more casual outfit; trousers of blue, with a plain cotton blouse of light gray. It made John even more worried. This wasn't for show, this was all Naem. "Why did your people attack mine?"

"What?" John did a double take. "We didn't attack anyone!"

"Last night, while my people slept unsuspecting, your team began a planned attack, burning out homes, crops and lives. We caught them in the process." Naem moved to a dresser along a wall. He watched as Naem withdrew a vial of liquid, instantly worried. Something bad was going down, and John knew he'd better figure it out fast. "I'd suspected as much was coming, but didn't expect your own people to drug you. While you slept, the others in your team organized chaos upon mine."

Sheppard had refused to sit on the bed, wanting to distance himself from Naem, but if there'd ever been anything else – chairs or a couch -- Naem must've had them removed. His knees were shaky from the earlier drug, his stomach, even more so, and it was a struggle just to stay on his feet, let alone try to sort out what was going on here.

"You're lying." Yeah, original John. The bad man is lying. That'll win an Emmy.

Naem's bare feet padded across the room, sinking into the plush carpet. "They confessed before the First Adjudicate earlier this morning." Naem's voice didn't even waver during the announcement, which made Sheppard believe he wasn't lying about that, at least, but it didn't make sense. He knew his people hadn't done it, so what was going on here?

Feeling the hard edge of anger take over, Sheppard growled, "Let me guess, they've been sentenced to die at sunset."

Naem gestured to his guards and they quickly moved in. John tried to put up a fight, but he was still recovering from the earlier effects, and they had him subdued and pinned in an embarrassingly short amount of time and effort, and on the bed. Panic clawed up his throat.

"No, Colonel. Murdering the guilty is barbaric. They've been sentenced to a life of reparation. They will serve in the fields, in the manse and in the town. They will rebuild, care and help those who suffered, and then keep helping, because everything they do will barely be enough to feed the families that lost their crops last night, or their homes."

The king ordered his guards, "His mouth."

One of them switched his hand that was holding onto John's arm for a knee, keeping Sheppard pinned, and forced his palm up under John's jaw, prying it open with a painfully strong grip. Helpless, he watched as Naem poured the contents into his mouth. He tried to spit it out, but only got a little out before the guard slammed his mouth shut with the heel of his hand, pinched his nose, and waited.

Sheppard couldn't breathe, and the liquid was burning his tongue, pooling at the back of his throat. He held it, tried to hold on, pretended to swallow, but the guard never removed his hand. Finally, as dots danced in his vision, John swallowed for real. The guard listened to the nod from the king, and released the hold on Sheppard's face and nose. He coughed, his throat now burning equally with his tongue.

"What is that?"

Even though he wasn't in a position to demand anything, he tried.

"We don't use physical restraints. Chemical is much more effective." Naem again, nodded to his guards, and they left, to return to the door. "As for you, your punishment is to be thus; you will be treated with kindness and respect. You will be my heir, my successor. I will see that you learn everything you must. In time, maybe you will no longer need the chemical restraint, but until then, you will receive daily doses, and for every one I must force down your throat, your team will suffer a whipping. Today we'll start with the woman."

John lurched off the bed, tired and dizzy. "You son of a bitch! You never told me -- do you think I would've fought if I'd known?"

Naem's eyes cut into him as he said coldly, "Yes."

The sucky thing was, Naem was probably right.


Naem had Sheppard follow him out of his chambers. This was a path he regretted he had to take, but the other avenues had been denied to him. His entire life had been a series of losses; his parents, his siblings, his wife and child, his people – the former had been from natural causes, a disease plagued the royal line, the latter from the wraith. It was unacceptable to suffer the loss of his people's love, devotion, and trust as the final end, before he was even buried.

When you have nothing left to lose, anything to get what he had back seemed a small price to pay. He had selected the guards he needed, the ones he knew whose family had been serving his since recorded history began. Naem explained the outsider's insidious plot – to lull the township, and then stage a coup. Many of the guards had initially protested with diplomatically caged comments of disbelief, but some had agreed with Naem from the beginning. They did not trust this Sheppard any more than Naem had upon the first meeting.

In order to foil Sheppard's plan, they would attack at night. Incite as much fear and chaos, and do so in the guise of Sheppard's own. He had ordered John and the others drugged, then while his guards started a few isolated fires and snuck away, another group went into Sheppard's bungalow and stole their jackets and weapons, shooting in the cover of darkness, and amidst all the chaos, his people never knew any different.

His guards had rushed in, and captured Sheppard and his team, hauling them off to the cells in the manse, but that had already happened earlier, right after the fires had started, and none of his people were any the wiser about the true events. Naem had singled Sheppard out; as the leader, their ruler, and Naem knew he was the one man that could keep the others strong throughout their enforced slavery. No, John was too dangerous to let loose, even in that limited capacity, and Naem would be keeping him near.

The idea to raise Sheppard up as his successor was a stroke of genius. He had no one left, and the people had believed in Sheppard.

Using that belief, Naem had already told his people that Sheppard was innocent. He had met with Doctor McKay, Teyla Emmagen, Ronon Dex and this Carson Beckett. He had explained the situation for them. Sheppard was hostage against their cooperation. If they acted out of line, he would have Sheppard tortured in every foul way one could imagine, and then he would be killed.

When the large man, Ronon, had slammed an angry fist into the wall, Naem had almost believed his ruse was not going to work, but then the other, McKay, he had stepped forward, his face drained of color and said, "What do we have to do?"

A full confession that their leader, this Weir, had ordered them to attack in hopes of taking over the town instead of continuing to trade fairly. That Sheppard had refused, and they had carried it out on their own, for fear of retribution when they returned home. Then they had agree to the terms of reparation.

Afterwards, Naem had ordered the Stargate sealed. That was not an easy undertaking, and the villagers left that had the knowledge met with Naem's guards, and together they arranged a pully system that brought the mammoth structure to the ground. He wasn't sure if this was effective, but Sheppard's leader had not tried to come through and he had contacted her with his story hours ago.

They walked to the town in silence. Sheppard was affected enough by the drug that he wouldn't be able to do more than make a weak swing with his fist. The Lumival had been passed down through generations for its ability to affect an individual's limbs and coordination, yet still allow them to think clearly. It was used as a form of control over criminals, more humane than death.

The sentenced victims were then put to work for the town, requiring a daily dose be taken for the rest of their lives. Most preferred it to the other option, which was being hung. There were too many hardships to allow the imposition of feeding and caring for a body that would not contribute. What use was imprisonment? A drain on resources. Either the guilty would do what they were told, take the chemical restraint, and benefit society, possibly earning a pardon in a suitable number of years (or not, depending on the severity), or they would be killed.

Naem truly did hate doing this. Sheppard's only crime was having the misfortune to offer something to his people that he had not been able to. To give them hope again so soon after a culling.

When they arrived, the villagers crowded around Naem, so much so, that his guards had to brandish swords and push them back. There were angry shouts, demands to understand why Sheppard's people had done this – as for Sheppard, he was busy scanning the town. Taking in the burnt homes, a body laid to rest on a pyre, waiting for sunset when it could be safely sent to the Ancestors.

The man was the only casualty. He had died after saving his family from their burning home, and Naem felt a great deal of regret. He had done everything he could to ensure that no lives were lost, but sometimes there was a price to be paid for the future.

Naem watched Sheppard as he continued to scan the town, and then his eyes found his teammates, working on pulling debris from a burnt home. McKay walked out, hauling a timber with half of it burnt to ash and crumbling in his grasp, while the other part of the beam was solid and heavy. Sheppard's jaw tightened, and he turned to Naem. "I want to talk to them."

The villagers grew quiet, then, surprised at Sheppard's temerity. Naem was not a callous king, but there were rules. Naem ignored it, knowing it'd have to be dealt with later.

"Listen, please, everyone – we have suffered greatly, but we've done so before, and survived. We have overcome many tragedies and we are still here! We will not be beaten!"

Naem was pleased to see them respond to his speech. For the first time since the culling, they were listening to him. Naem nodded to his guards to bring the others over. They were dirty, and suffering from the effects of the Lumival. "Take the woman; twenty strikes."

He'd promised Sheppard he would, and he had to follow through with it, even though it sickened a part of him even more. Sheppard had to understand that Naem did not make idle threats, and especially in the beginning, he needed to get the man doing as he was told, to begin the process of obedience and submission.

The roar of outrage was palpable. From the spoken shouts that erupted from Ronon Dex, Rodney McKay and Carson Beckett, to the silent promise that Naem would pay boring into him from Sheppard.

His own people were uncertain. Public flogging wasn't a common punishment. It had been used before, when the Lumival was not enough to keep a criminal's tongue polite, but this woman, this Teyla, she was a soft spoken leader in her own right, and Naem knew she had raised no ill word other than defend those with her.

"You may wonder what she has done -- this woman was responsible for drugging her leader. A most terrible crime, to lift a finger against your own, and I felt I must make a strong statement against this action, in addition to the sentence of reparation."

Teyla Emmagen's eyes found Sheppard's, and Naem read the desperation in his and the strength in hers. Would Sheppard act in her behalf? He turned to stare at the others – would they be foolish, too?

She was tied to a post often used for party tents, her shirt stripped from her. She kept her chin high, and grabbed the post with calm strength. Her team held their tongues, and Naem knew he had crossed one hurdle. He called a halt at fifteen, and let Sheppard know with a look that he did so only because the man had done nothing. Sheppard would learn, or they would all pay.

Village women brought Teyla a sheet and untied her bonds.

There was resentment in their eyes, contempt, as there would be, in light of the losses in food and homes and one of the people, but they cared for her anyway. Naem watched as they moved her to the Home of Healing.

When they were out of sight, and the crowd began to disperse, Naem offered more words of encouragement before he walked over to the others of Sheppard's team, stopping.

"Work hard and there will be no harm done."

Naem's words were a message they understood. Any wrong doing on their part, and Sheppard would suffer.

"Are you all right?" Sheppard asked, staring at them. "Why did you --"

"Silence!" Naem turned to Sheppard. "If you talk with the guilty, you will be seen as guilty. You are my heir, act like it!"

Naem knew the calculated effect had worked. The others appeared shocked, and upset, with what he had revealed. It would be a slow process, but with time, Naem would have this Sheppard fully alienated from those he had arrived with. Isolated, drugged, Naem would make Sheppard into a man capable of taking over for him. His father had told him once to keep his friends under his roof, but his enemies in his bed. The lesson was one he had learned well. Even then, there had been rumblings against his father's inability to make a difference when the Wraith culled – questions as to why the royal family had always been safe from the horrible fate. It had only been the queen's passing that had staved off an inquiry, and Naem had never fully believed the timing was coincidental.


Sheppard felt weird. He'd fought off the drug, and failed, and now his entire body felt weighted, slow. He knew if he tried to fight, his arms would move like they were in water. He was seething inside, had been since he'd been easily overcome by the guards, and forced to walk behind Naem into the village.

The homes were burnt, the body real, and since he knew they hadn't done it, despite the supposed confession, that made him wonder who did? And why had his team confessed? Someone had drugged him, maybe drugged them all, which is why they were able to convince the townsfolk that it'd been them, but nothing could've convinced his team to confess to a crime they hadn't committed, except – John's eyes slid intently onto Naem – unless they'd been threatened similarly; do as you are told or the others will suffer the consequences.

If his team had one fault, it was caring, too much. They would do more than they should to keep each other safe, and it was a fault they all shared, some probably worse than others, but enough that he could see something like this happening, and if that were the case, then who was doing the manipulating? Naem, most likely – because it didn't make sense for this king to take in one of the supposed criminals, make him heir to his kingdom, and keep him segregated. This entire thing made no sense.

When Naem had called his team over and ordered Teyla's whipping, John had almost lost it. They'd been in a lot of bad places before, but this was one of the worst. Teyla's shirt was pulled off and Sheppard was thankful that, at the least, her back was to them, and she'd be spared that humiliation – then again, Teyla was Athosian, and she handled almost everything with a quiet dignity, and he figured she'd face this the same way. Sheppard caught the other's eyes and shook his head. If they tried anything now, he knew Teyla would pay more for it. The feeling was unshakable, and they all must have felt it, because despite the rage from Ronon, the disbelief on McKay's face, and the disgust on Beckett's, they remained quiet.

While she was whipped, he tuned out the sounds of the leather striking flesh. John instead focused on the blue birds flocking into a tree still standing stubbornly beside a burnt house. He thought about how they'd first met, and how Teyla had helped him through the whole bug incident in the Jumper. She'd become a stalwart fourth of his team, and Sheppard knew that she'd rather be the one up there than any of them, it was just her way. For that matter, they'd all damn near feel the same, except Rodney, who would rant to himself that he was insane for volunteering and do it anyway, and maybe Beckett wasn't quite there yet on the self-sacrifice. That came from being together, facing death, and depending on each other to save your life time and time again. They'd each made their individual mistakes, but as a team, they were making it work.

The cessation of the whip drew John out of his internal thought, and he saw the women that had just yesterday greeted Teyla with laughter and warmth, now approach with a blanket and shirt, their faces full of loathing and anger. They didn't hit, or curse, but quietly helped Teyla away. Sheppard hated to see the silent accusations in what the townsfolk believed had happened everywhere he looked. They thought his team guilty; him innocent. God, he wanted to hit something.

A cold gust of wind blew, and Sheppard shivered. They were still dressed in their uniforms, but his team, like him, had been divested of jackets and vests. T-shirts, pants and boots. It was better than nothing, he supposed.

Naem began to walk towards the manse again, and John was torn, wanting to stay with his team, to make sure Teyla was okay. He looked longingly but found only Beckett looking his way. Rodney and Ronon were moving again into the house, to keep doing their penance. Think, John, there had to be something he could do to get them out of this pit they'd apparently fallen into.

The nudging from one of the guards stopped his wondering, and he stumbled after Naem.

The road from the town to the manse wasn't long, but it was curvy and rutted, and for half of the distance, meandered with a small river. Tall reeds grew up along the shore, grass on the other side, broken by broadleaf trees with leaves of yellow, red and orange. The dried up deadfall crunched under his feet as they kept walking steadily up, the slight rise not enough to normally tire Sheppard, but after the drug from the night before combined with the one from this morning, he was breathing hard. He spied purple flowers spattering the field like a careless painter had flung his brush against a canvas. Elizabeth liked flowers; purple, red and blue. He'd brought her some before, after the botany rep on the mission had given the okay. She didn't often get to go off world.

Taking another slow step on the road, Sheppard wished she hadn't come here.

The tall manse rose up ahead, the river parted company with the road, and Sheppard had a heavy feeling settling deep in his chest. After they walked through the large-planked double doors that rose from floor to ceiling, Naem ordered the guards to escort John to the library. It was time for his lessons to begin.


The room was large, the ceiling made of domed glass, and John wondered how many times they'd had to replace that. Shelves of books lined up like tin soldiers in rows, and three large tables the size of the briefing room on Atlantis stretched across the length, wall to wall.

A short woman, on the heavier side of plump, bustled forward, her dress swishing with her fast stride. She bowed and said, "Prince Sheppard."

Prince? He frowned at her. "Colonel Sheppard," he corrected.

The brown curls that framed her head and spilled on her shoulders shook irritably. "Whatever was your past was left in the village last night. Your companions did irrevocable wrong, and though you were innocent, His Majesty has declared you will never return to your world. Your penance will be to learn how to rule, to learn how to inspire devotion, and to give our world the hope we were meant to have."

John stared down at his uniform, surprised Naem hadn't taken it, too. Maybe that was the second act. "Look, miss --"

"My name is Ascaria."

"Ascaria, then." Sheppard gave her his warmest, seductive smile. "My companions didn't do anything wrong, and I didn't either. This is all a big misunderstanding, so, if you don't mind --"

Her brown eyes hardened in her plain face. "Sit down."

If it hadn't been for the guard's interest over her harsh tone, he wouldn't have, but Sheppard didn't see any reason for pushing his luck. He wouldn't say he was afraid of Naem, but he was definitely wary of the man, and right now he needed to get a feel for where to go from here. This Ascaria wasn't going to give him much of a chance to do that. "So, who are you and why am I here?" He tried a different angle.

"I am the historian, and you are my pupil. Normally, a prince of the throne would have been raised on the history of his family, but this is an usual situation, and His Majesty has declared you are to learn from the previous rulers, so that you may be a wise king."

"I'm not going to be king."

But with another sharp look from Ascaria, he sat on the hard stone bench. Why have wooden tables and stone seats? It was cold, and leeched through his pants quickly, and when she brought a large volume ten times as thick as War and Peace, dropping it in front of him, Sheppard looked upward, incredulous.

"I'm not learning this." He opened the dusty tome, and blew on the first page, staring down at the writings on the vellum. "I can't even read this."

Ascaria sucked in an annoyed breath. The arched stained glass of the dome sprinkled rainbows on her white dress, and it made Sheppard get even more pissed off because he'd been in a similar situation before, and at least that time, the woman had had a thing for Rodney, and it'd been enjoyable doing the whole Indiana Jones thing – until the Genii showed up.

Ascaria, though, was a far way from being friendly, and she was looking to be a hard sell on any kind of pity he might try to garner, seeking an ally to help him find some kind of way out of this and get back to his team.

"You can't read?" She said it like an accusation of illiteracy. She hovered over him, smelling like laundry soap and dust.

"I can read, but this isn't my language."

Why the hell was he even here? John still couldn't figure out how this had happened – how in the span of twenty-four hours they'd gone from visiting allies to…what? Prisoners, prince-in-training? It didn't make any sense, why would someone go through the trouble to frame his team, and what threat had been made against his team to make a false confession?

"I said, I'll translate for you, but you'll have to learn to read our language." Ascaria thumped an irritable hand on the book. "Were you even listening to me?"

Sheppard watched dust motes fall lazily in the sunbeam. "Not really, no." He didn't owe this woman anything. In fact, he was getting kind of pissed at her attitude. It wasn't like he'd asked for this. It was exactly the opposite.

John didn't want to be here; he wanted answers, he wanted his team, and away from Naem's threatening presence, Sheppard felt a lot braver. Ascaria wasn't giving off the dangerous vibes he'd gotten from Naem from the beginning.

She was giving off a lot of anger, definitely, but danger, not even close.

When she stormed out of the room, John thought he'd see if he could walk around the manse, do some exploring, but the guards stepped in front of the exit, and Sheppard turned back towards the books. So, waste of time, because the room could be filled with a detailed escape plan for all the good it'd do him. He couldn't read a thing.


"Sire, the early reports indicate the crops will be enough for the winter, but Kaleb has concerns about silo four."

Naem took the paper from Gaemal. Kaleb's broad, loose script detailed worries about the stone at the base of silo four, how cracks threatened to allow vermin infestation to occur. A simple enough problem, and he growled under his breath, wondering why the man was incapable of ordering such a simple repair without Naem holding his hand. "Tell him to order the repair work." Stretching on the hard throne, Naem rubbed the ache in the middle of his forehead. "Gaemal, tell Kaleb I do not want such proof of inadequacy in his job again. He did not need my seal for this work."

Gaemal nodded stiffly, and bowed, before turning, and walking down the carpet runner that spanned from the broad entrance to the throne dais. Sighing, Naem found his brooding thoughts shifting to Sheppard, wondering how Ascaria's tutelage was coming.

He did not wonder long. Ascaria approached from the private entrance, bowing, her face troubled. "Sire, this man --"

"Prince, Ascaria."

She dipped her head again, apologetic. "Prince -- he is not cooperative. He does not know how to read, and is not listening or trying to learn from me."

Naem was not surprised, but he did not like it anymore because of it. He had judged for himself that Sheppard was the true danger. The man would not be easily turned away from who he had been. A part of him knew this was foolhardy. Sheppard was dangerous, deadly. He had seen it in his eyes from the beginning; bottomless depths.

But Naem had not lived and ruled for so long without learning that once you begin on a path, there is no turning back. He had chosen a fork in the road that would lead to the successful end of his life. Naem had set in motion a chain of events that could only end in one way.

Sheppard's power molded and shaped into his world's. Whatever it took, Naem would do it.

He smiled kindly at the woman he had set for Sheppard's tutor. "Tomorrow, he will be ready." Naem had felt half inclined to punish Ascaria for her failure; a teacher that could not get a student to learn was not much of a teacher, but in this situation, he would consider Sheppard's age and the circumstances at hand.

Turning to his guard, Naem ordered Sheppard taken to his private room. He had hoped to ease the man into the rigors of training, but Naem should have understood that Sheppard would need his first lesson sooner rather than later.

When Naem was finished with his duties, he would have to give the prince his first lesson in obedience to the crown.


Teyla felt a pain that went far deeper than the wounds in her back. The public flogging was not the source, by any means. The women's disdain and anger, part of it, but more than anything, the hopelessness she felt tonight was too much of it.

"Teyla, you need to eat." Ronon held a bowl of stew in front of her.

She did not want to eat, or sleep, or do anything. She was angry, very, very angry. This man, this Naem, she felt certain he was behind the events. They had woken in the cell, and each one knew they had been drugged without Carson verifying it. John had not been in the cell with them, and her fear had turned to ice inside.

"I am not hungry."

She continued to stare at the fire. The same bungalow they had stayed in the night before, the same one where Sheppard had been taken from them -- who had ordered for them to be given this as a permanent residence? Every day and night would be a reminder.

After clearing debris all day, the others had repaired the door and cleaned up the mess from last night. Teyla had been allowed to spend the afternoon recovering in the Home of Healing, but it had been quiet and stressful, as the women tending her had been full of their own anger.

Teyla's denials had hung on her lips and only the image of Sheppard standing behind Naem kept them from spilling forth. She believed the man capable of hurting Sheppard a great deal.

"We must find a way off this world." She looked away from the flames and found them watching her. "There will be no rescue, and Colonel Sheppard is in grave danger."

"Did you not understand about the 'gate?" Carson smiled sadly. "Lass, I don't think there will be any escape. We'll be waiting for the Daedalus to arrive."

"If Caldwell doesn't blow it up in a space battle," McKay cracked.

He was staring into the fire as well, his face twisted and bitter. Betrayal was still fresh on his mind, and Teyla was certain he was thinking about those times when they had taught the town's children, and instructed the adults – and the people had so easily believed them capable of the destruction brought upon them last night. Their innocence had not been argued by any, not even Rolos, who had listened avidly as Rodney had explained how a windmill worked.

"Even with this drug, I can take them." Ronon cracked his knuckles and stared malevolently at the door.

"Maybe," conceded Carson. "One, two tops, but after that Son, they'll have you down, and then what? Then Colonel Sheppard will receive God knows what at the bloody bastard's hand." He stepped to the sink on the wall opposite the fireplace, and set the ceramic bowl into the water waiting. "No, we need to wait for the Daedalus."


When John was returned to the same room he'd woken up in, he'd had a bad feeling. But then the afternoon had waned with him by himself. He'd recounted flight procedures for every aircraft he'd ever flown and still had time to waste. Because of the drug he'd been given, physical activity wasn't exactly fun. He'd tried to do some jumping jacks and almost threw up from the spinning it caused in his head.

Naem arrived just when he'd decided he needed to create a more elaborate procedure for the Jumpers, because, of all the aircraft he'd reeled through in his mind, that'd been the one he loved the most and the one that had been the fastest to do.

Without speaking, Naem moved to the dresser. John tensed, sitting up, slow enough to keep his stomach under control. He hadn't eaten all day and the drug wasn't sitting well on an empty stomach. Instead of another vial, the king withdrew a lounge type robe, shucked out of his formal tunic that he'd apparently put on when Sheppard had been in his failed tutoring session, and then strode across the chambers to the bathroom.

Water splashed, then Naem was back. The room wasn't massive, but it wasn't small, either. The bed was in the middle of the far right wall. Silk bedding, four thick carved dark wooden posts rose high above, almost to the ceiling. The rug was oval and covered almost the entire chamber with what looked like a family crest woven into it with different colored threads of burgundy, blue and black. The wall with the door had the dresser, and it had a large mirror on top with one side of dressers, the other had a cabinet. On the left wall was a table, and now there were chairs, whereas when he'd woken up before they had been gone. A game table of some sort was there now, and another cabinet of some kind behind it.

This was Naem's home turf, and they both knew it. What Sheppard didn't know is why he kept being brought back here.

The robe was loosely tied around the king's hips, his chest hair showing. The dark eyes raked over him, and Sheppard felt that deep sense of foreboding kicking in. "Uh, look, I don't know how things --"


Naem's roar rolled out like thunder and died down. The king went to the cabinet behind the game table and withdrew a clear canister filled with amber liquid, and a glass. He poured himself a small amount, and drank it quickly, before slamming it down onto the surface of the cabinet, and not even the small embroidered cloth that matched the design on the rug could dampen the noise.

"I will only say this once. You are my heir. I've chosen you because of the power I see within. You, John Sheppard, were born to lead, but I will teach you how to rule."

Naem poured himself another drink and drank it equally fast. When he put the glass down this time it was softer, and he walked away from the bottle and table, and approached Sheppard. "Whatever questions you have, disbeliefs, previous sympathies and loyalties, for your sake, they stop now. Nothing from before can remain; to be king you must bow to me first."

John sat stiffly. "I don't want to be king," he seethed. "You're forgetting who made this proclamation."

"And you forget who holds the power here!" Naem grabbed Sheppard's shirt and yanked him to his feet.

He had to be in his fifties, and yet the strength in the grip, John knew it'd break bones. His bones, and it took all the restraint he had in him to shut up and let the mad king have his day.

Sensing Sheppard's capitulation, Naem released his shirt, and walked again, to the other dresser, the one with the mirror. He opened a cabinet and withdrew restraints, and turned to John. "Ascaria had an unfavorable report for me. I want you to understand that must not happen again. Your job as Prince is to learn. I will hold your team's welfare against your cooperation, but after seeing your ability to remain calm in light of their punishment, I fear the beatings you would incur in their names would be too great for my people to accept without protest, remember, I said we are not barbaric. And I do not blame you for your impulses. They will not die easily," he said. Stepping closer to Sheppard he spoke in almost a whisper of steel. "But they will die."

John had done the math. He'd heard the rumor on his way to the library that the 'gate had been sealed, and he'd figured out based on the fact that the Daedalus had left Atlantis three days ago, that he had to survive at least a month, probably a month and a half considering turn around; problems with loading new supplies and personnel, maybe even two months if the ship needed repairs and/or Caldwell felt his crew needed a couple weeks R&R. There'd been talk about it; all the battles of late had been wearing down the flight crew.

Which meant, no rescue, not for a while, and he was staring down the barrel of a very bad situation that, at any wrong move, might blow up in his face, and take his team down with him. Based off of what Sheppard was piecing together, Naem was capable of doing anything to achieve the goals he wanted. And for whatever reason, Naem wanted him to assume some kind of sick role as his Prince, to go along with this farce of being the heir to the crown – why?

"I realize I was a little…distracted," began Sheppard.

"Shush," Naem soothed, his anger disappearing. He pulled John to his feet, the drug making him move before his brain even realized it.

Sheppard was led to the center of the room and there the king pushed his foot down hard on the rug with a picture of a sword. A device dropped from the ceiling. A beam with two large eye bolts, and chains. "Take off your clothes."

It felt surreal, and bizarre, and he didn't want to do it. In fact, John didn't do it. He stood stubbornly in the spot and didn't say a word. He had a really, really bad feeling about this.

"John," Naem said, strictly. "You will be allowed your undergarments, now take off your shirt, boots and pants. I am not going to hurt you."

And that's why you've got a personal restraint system built into your ceiling. Sheppard could think of a lot of reasons for what hung above his head, and none of them ended in a pain free experience. Still, his eyes caught sight of the guards and he debated what was worse -- doing what he was told, or being undressed by someone else. Really, put that way, it wasn't much of a debate, and he pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it on the rug. His boots took a little more work and the relief from having them off for the first time in a day was mixed with the unpleasant process of taking his pants off next. His socks stuck to his feet from the sweat, and when he was done, he shivered and felt generally pissed, humiliated and more than a little vulnerable.

This wasn't the time or the place to lose his temper, and Sheppard kept repeating those damn flight procedures desperately while Naem locked his wrists in shackles, then locked them into the chains. His feet were free, but his arms pulled up over his head. He couldn't sit, lay, only stand, and Sheppard had a sinking suspicion it was going to be a long night.

When he was locked in tight, Naem stood back, a look of almost pity across his face. The eagle eyes were back, and he assessed John's position with approval. Satisfied, he nodded to the guards, who then turned and left the room, latching the door behind them. Naem returned to take one more drink before moving to his bed. "I am sorry the night will be long and uncomfortable, and I know you are hungry, but I will tell you more about that in the morning, when I feel you will be more amenable to my rules for you. Good night, John. Oh, and I wish for you to call me Naem, please, not Majesty or King – for you are my heir and it is allowed. Now, rest. Tomorrow you will learn."

Naem spared one more look at Sheppard, shivering and strung up, before blowing out the single candle left lit by the bedside, then shifted in his bed.

John listened to the sounds of the guards walking their patrols, Naem's slow, even breathing, and wished like hell he could put a stop to all of it, and even more so to the pain in his shoulders, wrists, arms and legs. As night wore on, Sheppard prayed for morning to arrive, because the cold in the room deepened, and grew. He shivered, which made his joints ache more.