The Shortcoming by Shay Savage by Shay Savage - Read Online

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The Shortcoming - Shay Savage

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BOOK FOUR: The Shortcoming

As the bond between Alexandra and Branford deepens, they each have their hopes for the future. Branford aspires to lead his kingdom with both wisdom and a firm hand while Alexandra fervently wishes to give her husband an heir.  As Alexandra learns to embrace her noble role, she finds friendship with the girl she rescued from an abusive owner.  It seems as though their lives have finally rewarded them with the happiness they have sought. 

But happiness comes at a price, for war is on the horizon.

The neighboring kingdom of Hadebrand has amassed an army, and against insurmountable odds, Branford must lead the fight for his people.  Alexandra is terrified but cannot let her fear show for she must serve as an example to their kingdom.

The war must eventually end, but there is only one thing on Branford’s mind—to continue the royal lineage. But how will Alexandra overcome her heartache when she can’t give her husband the one thing he must have?

Chapter 1—Resolutely Surrender

For a very long moment, I just stood there with mouth agape, trying to understand what had apparently occurred so close to me yet without my knowledge.  I had been on the other side of the stables, only vaguely aware of the knights at the far end.  Now that I understood what they had been doing, I was shocked and horrified.

The girl rolled over to her hands and knees and began to push herself up and out of the dirty straw before I gained my senses and moved to help her.

Are you hurt badly? I asked quietly.  I crouched down next to her and reached out to offer assistance though I didn’t know what I should do to help.  The girl reached over her shoulder and pulled her soiled dress against her chest.  It was badly torn and likely ruined.  If only I had realized what was happening to her earlier...but even then, what could I have done?

I am fine, my lady, the girl’s soft voice proclaimed as she tried to right herself.  She used one hand to push her short, dark hair from her face.

My name is Lady Alexandra, I told her.  I really didn’t know if my name was known yet or not here in Sawyer though Branford kept assuring me I would be known both by name and face before the end of summer.  The colors of my dress made me stand out as a supporter of Silverhelm, not as its future queen.  I am Prince Branford’s wife.  If you tell me what happened, maybe I can help.

The girl’s eyes went wide with terror as she scrambled in the dirty straw to get herself sitting upright.  She shook her head and started begging me.

No, no—please, my lady!  Do not speak of it!  She pushed herself up onto her feet as chaff rained down from her torn dress.  I stood as well, reaching for her arm to steady her as she swayed.  I am fine, really.  I just need to get Lord Leland’s horse now.

Lord Leland.  Undoubtedly, this was Sir Leland, the knight Branford had mentioned the previous day.  I was sure of it.  He was the knight who had bested Branford in the joust.  He must have been the blond knight who stayed after the others had left.  I remembered Branford’s warning to stay away from him.

You cannot possibly—  I didn’t get my sentence out before I heard my name called from the other end of the stables.

Alexandra!  Ida stood near Romero’s stall, looking up and over the wall.  She looked from left to right, seeking me out.

Over here, Ida! I called back and waved my hand in her direction.  Ida gathered up her skirts and came quickly to the other side of the building.  When she reached me, she observed the girl in the stall and then faced me with a look of concern in her eyes.

I was stopped by Lady Sawyer, Ida said.  I realize you have only met her once, but you already know how difficult it is to get her to end a sentence.  What happened?

There were some knights here... I started to say.

Please, my lady, the girl begged.  She reached out as if to take my hand.  I do not want to start any trouble.

Trouble? I asked.  You have done nothing wrong.

Lord Leland bade me to collect his horse, she said softly.  She grabbed a bit and bridle from the wall of the stall and started to walk toward the door to the barn.  I should go to the farrier now.

He was one of the men who hurt you, wasn’t he? I asked, grasping her arm and turning her to me.  Her gaze darted from me to Ida and then back to me again.

He did no harm, my lady.  The girl pulled her shoulders in on herself, as if she was trying to disappear into the ground.

No harm! I scoffed, pointlessly indicating her torn dress and muddied skirts.

It is his right, the dark haired girl said with a shrug.

Alexandra, Ida said as she placed her hand on my arm, what happened?

I looked from the girl to Ida and wondered what I could say.  I did not want to frighten Branford’s sister, nor did I want the girl to run off before I could convince her to seek help.  Before I could respond to Ida, I heard my name called again, this time by the deep voice of my husband.  He had also entered the far end of the stables near his horses.  I waved my hand in the air to get his attention.

Please, my lady, the girl said again, truly, I do not wish to be a burden.  I should go...

It is not a burden! I said, insisting, but before I could say any more, Branford was near.

What are you doing down here? he demanded as he walked over toward us.  He looked from me to Ida and then into the stall.  The girl had managed to straighten her dress so she was no longer exposed, but the dress was obviously torn, and her lip was bloody and swollen.  Branford looked back to me.  Alexandra?

There were some knights here, I started to say, but the girl grabbed my arm.  When I turned, she was shaking her head and begging me not to tell Branford what had happened.

Please, my lady, she said.

I looked back to my husband, but he was looking away from me and away from the girl in the stall.  His jaw was set, and his hands flexed into fists for a moment.

What are you doing down here, Alexandra? Branford asked, demanding my answer.

Branford, she was—

We need to return to the arena, Branford said, cutting off my words.

But, Branford, I started to say but was interrupted again.

It is not your concern, Alexandra.  Branford’s eyes darted quickly between my face and the stall where the girl stood with her head bowed and then toward the entrance to the stable.

My heart sank, and words would no longer form in my throat.  He was not going to help her—that much was obvious.  I knew by the look in his eye, he had not misinterpreted what had occurred.  He knew what had happened, and he was willingly walking away from it.  Indeed, he was telling me to do the same.

Branford, she is hurt, I said, hoping my emphasis would make the point better.  He glanced at her again.

She seems all right.

Branford!

There is nothing I can do, Branford said.  He turned and started walking back toward Romero’s stall, and I scurried after him.

Branford, what do you mean, ‘nothing’?  They were...they were brutal with her!

I know who she is, Branford said with a shrug.  His eyes were dark and narrowed, betraying his ire behind the nonchalance he attempted to project.

Who is she?

Her name is Janet.  She’s owned by Sir Leland.

Owned?

Yes.

A slave?  I gasped.

Yes, a slave.

But surely he cannot—

Alexandra, please. Branford stopped and gripped my forearms with his hands.  There is nothing I can do.

But is Sawyer not part of Silverhelm?  I continued to press.  Do you not rule here?

Of course I do! Branford snapped back.  That has nothing to do with it!

They hurt her, Branford.  Did you not see?  I couldn’t understand his attitude toward what was obviously so heinous an act.  He was a prince here!  Could he not do whatever he pleased?

Branford closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head sharply, as if to dispel whatever thoughts were in his mind as he turned and walked farther away from me though I followed still.  He balled his hands into fists, and without warning, he stopped walking and turned back to me.

Do you not think I want to correct this? he yelled.  Do you not think I would do something about it if I could?  With all you know of me, with what you know of...of my mother...how could you think I would turn my back if I had another choice?

I opened my mouth, dumbfounded, but quickly looked away from him, for his question was more than valid.

I did not mean... I started but didn’t know exactly how to finish.

You asked me once before how your life differed from that of a slave, Branford said, reminding me.

I remember, I said softly.  I looked up into his eyes, taking a step closer to him.  I was not thinking clearly, Branford.  Please, forgive me.

Now do you understand the difference?  Branford raised his hand up in the air as if to make his point to the skies or at least the roof of the barn.  Had she been his paid servant, I would have no issue taking him to the stocks, but she is a slave, and she is his property.  He is free to use her as he sees fit.

The sight of her on the floor of the stall invaded my mind and brought tears to my eyes.  Her torn dress, her bloodied lip, and four, strong knights drinking their ale and doing with her whatever they wished.

Branford...that is...is...

I know, Alexandra, he said, his voice softening.  He took a deep breath as he reached out and took me in his arms.  Do you not believe I would act on this if I could?  But she is only a slave, and he is of royal blood from the kingdom next door to Silverhelm.  Even if she was a hired servant, I could not have punished him harshly.  But she is his slave, and he has done nothing wrong.

Nothing wrong, I said, listening to the words echo around the stables.

Alexandra, please...

Please what? I asked quietly.

You must understand she has no more rights than if he had brought a lamb with him to slaughter for the feast.  Do you think I could tell him not to slaughter his own lamb?  Do you think I could punish him for eating it?

My gaze dropped to the ground, and I felt a single tear as it escaped from my eyes and fell across my cheek.  The girl was nothing to him—not to Branford or to Sir Leland—not a person, just a commodity to be used and cast aside when no longer needed.  Branford brushed his thumb gently against my cheekbone.  I thought he was about to speak, but before he had the chance, I heard rapid footsteps, and Ida was suddenly with us.

Branford, do not be angry with Alexandra, Ida said as she came up.  It was entirely my fault.  I didn’t know Lady Sawyer would want to chat, and I can hardly walk away from my future mother-in-law.  Alexandra was only alone for the shortest of times, but still it was my fault, not hers.

Branford froze for a moment, his eyes going wide as he looked first to his sister and then to me.  He took a step backwards, releasing me from his embrace.  Obviously, before that moment he had no idea Ida had not been with me when the girl was accosted or that I had been in the barn with those men without a chaperone.  I watched as the realization came over him, and his confusion turned