Authors: Shay Savage
Book Seven: The Devastation
Copyright © 2016 Shay Savage
All Rights Reserved
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without the express permission of the author, Shay Savage —except in the case of brief excerpts or quotations embodied in a review or critical writings.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author
Special thanks to Matt Flanery, Patrick Savelli, and the Society for Creative Anachronism for letting Savage Trainer and me hang out and use their armor and expertise to create the cover for the final installment of the Unexpected Circumstances series. You guys are awesome!
Table of Contents
Although Branford is broken and desperate, he finds himself with no choice: He must declare war against Hadebrand, or Edgar’s evil darkness will envelop the commonwealth. Silverhelm’s army is grossly outnumbered, but Branford underestimates the people’s love for their commoner queen. The people rise up in support of their beloved regent, and Branford sees a glimmer of hope for his wife. He becomes more determined than ever to make up for his previous failures and secure the future of his kingdom.
With their murderous intentions, the treacherous King Edgar and Princess Whitney must pay for what they have done. They must not be allowed to destroy everything the people hold dear.
With but faint hope in his heart, Branford gathers his people and marches toward the castle in Hadebrand, gathering allies along the way. With the support of other noble families, Branford will have to find the strength to fight for the very survival of his own family and the entire kingdom.
He sees only one path: the annihilation of his enemy.
I thought I knew pain.
With my throat full of choking dust, I pushed myself from the ground. The throbbing in the back of my head overshadowed any clear thought for several minutes while I tried to collect my wits about me. Every muscle was tensed for the fight, and I was not sure if I was still under attack or not. I flailed at nonexistent hands surrounding me, shaking my head and taking a step away from the bodies that were far too close for my liking. They lay all over the ground, and I felt as though they were boxing me in and making it difficult to focus.
My head spun, and I stumbled. When I reached to the back of my head, I winced, and my fingers became sticky from the blood in my hair as my mind flashed with recent memories.
I had impaled the large man with the dented breastplate, using my sword to strike up underneath his armor, and then I was hit from behind…
I stumbled again as dizziness and nausea swept over me, dropped to my knees, and was sick. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, finding blood there to go with the stinging pain in my lips. Once my stomach had purged itself, I could focus better. I reached out to get the leverage to rise again, but my fingers hit something on the ground, and I forced myself to look at the face of the body beside me.
My page lay on his side with his short sword only a few feet from his stiff, cold hand. I swallowed past the lump in my throat and used both hands to bring myself back to my knees. I lifted my head to see the carriage standing horseless in the middle of the road.
In a rush, it all came back to me, and I screamed.
“ALEXANDRA!” I jumped to my feet as dizziness tried to overwhelm me again. It nearly succeeded, but I managed to launch myself toward the carriage door and wrench it aside.
“ALEXANDRA!” I yelled again, jerking my head from side to side as I ran around the carriage completely, calling out her name. There was no sign of her. I stood next to the opened carriage door, my hands balled into fists and my panting breaths escaping my mouth. I forced myself up the step and inside, my eyes burning as I stared at the bench seat. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to keep the images from the past out of my current conjecture, but it did not work.
I knew she would never have fit there, and it was ridiculous to look. Some insane, irrational part of my brain wondered if she could have somehow given birth to our child during the battle and hidden him inside the bench. I still had to look though I knew it was ridiculous. The very idea of opening the bench made my stomach lurch and my heart pound in my temples.
I took a short step forward, my ears burning with the silence around me. I could hear nothing but my own breath and the steps of my booted feet. With my heart still pounding, I reached over and pushed the seat up quickly, revealing nothing in the storage area except blankets.
I dropped back to the dirt road and gazed over the broken bodies around me. There were thirteen of my men, including the carriage driver, and an additional twenty-three bodies in unfamiliar garb and unmarked armor. Not a single one lived, but the loss of their lives barely registered in my head. There were so many, the bodies resembled the morning after a large battle. The only thing missing was the serfs going through the men’s pockets, looking for anything they could sell.
Where is she?
For a long moment, my mind simply shut down, and I felt only confusion. I took a few steps up the road to where the delicate gold crown lay in the dirt and bent to pick it up. I turned it over and over again in my hands as I tried to understand. It was supposed to be on Alexandra’s head. She only took it off to sleep, of course, but otherwise she always, always wore her crown. Why would it be here in the road?
My hands froze, and the circlet tumbled again to the ground. I could feel my mouth drop open, but I could not make a sound or draw air into my body.
They took her.
Oh God, they took her.
I felt the sides of the old carriage bench close tightly against my shoulders as the lights in my head disappeared, and I was transported back to my childhood with the sound of my father’s name being screamed over and over again in my head.
Only this time, the voice was different.
It was not my mother screaming for my father but Alexandra’s voice as she cried out my name repeatedly. As the sound echoed in my head, it became more and more distant. A blunt sound escaped my throat, but I could not draw enough breath to scream again. Had they hurt her? Had they…had they…?
I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. If anyone touched her, he would die. His families and friends and acquaintances would all die. In fact, there would be nothing left of the entire realm if she was violated in such a way. I could not even bring myself to think such a thing. If what had happened to my mother happened to Alexandra…
And for the tiniest, briefest moment, I did not care.
I just wanted her here—with me—no matter what had happened. I wanted her in my arms where I knew she was safe, and no one could touch her. I wanted to run my hands through her hair and inhale her scent and tell her I was here, holding her and protecting her, but I could not.
She was gone.
I screamed again, tearing the carriage door from its hinges and throwing it across the road. It fell into the body of one of the guards—one of the men that failed to protect us. With a sudden, terrified thought, I searched the bodies in the road for any sign of a woman, but there was none. I cursed and kicked at the body closest to me—a man whose face I barely recognized. He was just one of the dozen who was supposed to protect her.
was supposed to do that.
“Alexandra!” I cried out, my voice now hoarse from shouting. I spun around to look across the fields and toward the horizon in all directions, but there was nothing to be seen. Instinctively, I looked to the ground and saw the tracks of many horses and at least one cart. The tracks lead to the south, toward Wynton, Sterling, and…
She must have been taken there.
For a moment, I could breathe again—for if she had been taken, she was alive.
I blinked a few times, my thoughts turning inward as I realized that I
she was alive. If she were not, I would feel it in the very core of my being. At the moment, it felt as though my insides were literally torn to shreds, but I could function. I could think. If she were gone, I would not be able to do anything. The earth would simply cease to exist if she were no longer in it.
But why would she be taken? As a bargaining tool? As if I would give in to the demands of anyone who threatened my wife.
Oh, but you have…
“Not the same,” I whispered to myself, knowing the words that fell from my bleeding lips were lies. I had given in to such demands again and again, and I felt my stomach roll in protest of the things I had done for the sake of Silverhelm and Alexandra’s protection.
It had all failed.
Everything I had done to try to guarantee the safety of my wife and my people had been nothing but a dismal, painful failure. I had not only been unsuccessful but had also brought Alexandra more pain with my own, ignorant behavior than even my enemy had. As if it were not bad enough what I did in order to create an heir, I had made her believe I did not care.
I knew now that it was exactly what Edgar had hoped to achieve. Divide us from within. Make us doubt our own loyalties. And conquer without bloodshed. I had simply walked right into his trap, and he had played me like a fool for his own, twisted amusement.
And she had forgiven me.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I could hear the sound of hoofbeats in the distance, toward the north. I did not bother looking in that direction, for I knew it had to be Parnell or at least someone sent by him. We were undoubtedly late in our arrival now, and he would come looking for us.
There was only me now, and the thought sent the chill of death down my spine.
I both heard and felt the horse as it moved up to stand beside me. I also heard my name called though I did not take my eyes from the road and the fresh trails left by the wheels of a cart. My head conjured images of Alexandra—bound and gagged as Kimberly had been before I had her slaughtered. A sharp breath tightened my chest and shoulders as I thought of how frightened she must be.
“Branford!” Parnell’s voice broke through my haze, and I swung my fist toward his face.
He had known me far too long and was prepared for my reaction. He ducked quickly and spun in a circle behind me right before he placed both his hands on my shoulders though only lightly.
“It is only me, sire,” he told me.
“She is gone.” I looked at him.
“I know, Branford.”
“How do you know?”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter with a broken seal.
The seal of Hadebrand.
This is your only chance to save the life of your child.
Denounce the commoner and take Whitney’s hand.
It was unsigned, but with the seal, it did not have to be. It was obvious who had orchestrated such a thing, and in my hand was the proof.
But I did not care about proof—I only wanted my wife and child safe.
“I was supposed to protect her.”
Parnell took the letter from me and told me of the messenger from Hadebrand who brought it to Sawyer only a few hours ago. I looked up the road and saw the small army of Sawyer as they gathered on horseback with Rylan at their lead.
“Where is the messenger now?”
“Quite dead,” Parnell said. “I did not see any reason to keep him alive—we have the seal as proof.”
I nodded and glanced back down the road. My head swam, and I had to swallow back bile.
“There was nothing you could have done,” Parnell said. “There were at least forty of them, based on the hoofprints. Your guard did not stand a chance.”
“I doubled them.”
“That is still merely a dozen.”
“It was not enough,” I said as I shook my head and looked around at the dead men in the road. I could only repeat my earlier words to Parnell. “I was supposed to protect her.”
“There were too many, King Branford,” Rylan said as he shook his head.
“We must return you to Silverhelm,” Parnell said as his hand again rested atop my shoulder.
“No,” I said. “We head south.”
I did not miss the look Sir Rylan shared with my cousin.
“Sire—” Parnell started, but I cut him off.
“They took her, Parnell.” The reminder was unnecessary. “They took Alexandra. I will not go home until I have brought her back.”
“Who took her?” Rylan said bluntly.
I glared at him.
“Who else would take her?” I asked as I grabbed the letter back from Parnell and shook it in his face. “Are you stupid?”
“No, King Branford,” Rylan replied. “Are you?”
He obviously anticipated my reaction, for he caught my fist in his hands as I swung at him.
“Hear me out!” he yelled, and he used his impressive strength to grip my arms. Parnell drew his sword and tried to step between us, Rylan released his grip on me and took a step away.
“Have you a death wish?” Parnell yelled at him.
“Listen to me!” Rylan cried out. He held out both of his hands to put distance between us as I growled under my breath at him but allowed him to speak. “How is your ability to bring war to Hadebrand different now than it was yesterday? If you go there now with the small rabble we have here, what have you done besides deliver yourself into his hands?”
He gestured with his meaty hand toward the forty men behind him. His words sunk into me as I looked into his dark eyes, shielded with heavy brows. He was right, and I knew he was, but how could I possibly do anything other than go after her?
“My wife…” I said, unable to finish the rest of the sentence as my gut roiled, and I had to swallow hard to stop myself from vomiting again.
“I know,” Rylan replied. “You will go for her, but not now—not like this.”
Parnell gripped my forearm as he looked into my face.
“We must return to Silverhelm,” he said in a low voice. “Your army is at the ready there. I will send a messenger to Sawyer that all the horses ready for battle to be brought to Silverhelm. There will be enough for your cavalry, and I swear to you they will be worthy steeds.”
“If you are going to bring her home, you must prepare first,” Rylan said. “If you move against Edgar only to be killed in the first battle, how will you save your Alexandra?”
I felt my head nod up and down once, and I had to take a deep breath to try to calm my body. Every ounce of my being wanted to draw my sword and simply follow the tracks myself, but both Rylan and Parnell were right—it would do Alexandra no good if I were to be killed now.