Out of the 400+ pages that made The Royal Rogue, there are over a hundred more which never made the final manuscript. This is one of those scenes.
The clack of a three legged gait resounded up the stone steps that led to the palace’s front entrance. It was early. The sun had barely peaked from over the eastern trees. Two weary guards standing watch observed the approaching commoner through heavy eyelids, but didn’t make a sound. They were young, the visitor noticed, too young to have much experience. The Sarrokian showed no fear as he walked up between them and bowed courteously.
“I’m here to see Miss Tensley,” he announced.
“The Horse Mistress’ apprentice is busy,” the young guard to his right replied, nose held confidently above the commoner’s head.
Milo shrugged. “I can wait.”
“I don’t think you understand.” The commoner’s amber eyes took note of how the guard tightened his grip on the spear in his hands, a smirk evident beneath his silver helm. “The Mistress’ apprentice has more important tasks at hand today, and she will not have room for a Sarrokian visitor. Not now and not later.” Milo nodded slowly, his teeth clamped against his bottom lip to avoid spitting out a rebuttal that would make the guard’s mother blush. Instead, he turned to the other sentry, hoping for a more tolerant soul.
“I’m thinkin’ your friend’s a bit confused.” Milo’s tone remained amiable. “Levee’s family t’me. My ma and I raised her since she was this high,” he held a hand to the middle of his chest, “I’m sure she’d be raisin’ quite a fit over the thought of y’all turnin’ me aside.”
“We’ll let her know you stopped by,” the second guard replied. Clearly, these two didn’t understand the predicament before them. Milo wasn’t from these parts. When a humble fellow walked up and asked to see his family, a good southern gentleman wouldn’t turn him aside.
The Sarrokian dealt a swift lesson in manners, his cane whipping out with a speed neither expected from the cripple. A low slice struck the right guard in the gut, and Milo ducked while swinging the cane up high to swat the left guard’s sword arm harmlessly wide. A swift punch to the face followed, and he kicked the right guard with his good leg for good measure before hobbling inside.
A female escort stood by the doors. She crinkled her brow at the unexpected guest, her head tilted to catch a glimpse at the groaning guards over his shoulder. Milo removed his hat with a graceful bow.
“Good mornin’, m’lady,” his cowpoke hat nearly swept the ground before his hand brought it to rest across his chest. “I’m here to see Miss Levee Tensley.”
“You make a bold entrance, Master…” her words drifted in expectation of an introduction.
“Milo Kasateno,” he replied warmly. “A dear friend and family to Miss Tensley.”
“I see.” The woman turned and motioned for the Sarrokian to follow. “I will show you where to wait while I send for her.”
Milo was led to an empty throne room where he expected to be met with yet another interrogation. What he found was a long wait that left him pacing like a wild cat. The southern rahee was no novice to peril. Years on Sarrokye’s dangerous streets had taught him to sense when things were amiss. Soon after Levee left, Milo had arranged for his mother to stay with the farmer that had aided him after the incident with the troll.
A talk with the sandy-haired rahee had reinforced Milo’s suspicions when they received a message from the palace guard this morning: all villages in close proximity to Nevaharday are advised to take shelter inside city walls until further notice. Upon hearing these words, Milo had left his mother with the capable farmer, knowing he would be more capable of protecting her than he could.
“But what about you?” the farmer had asked.
Milo shook his head in response. He had to know more. Against the advice of his neighbors and mother, the Sarrokian set out to find just what had brought the troll to his village, and if more roamed the area. It cost him a heavy pocket of silver, but he found answers in a couple of gypsy merchants that graced Nevaharday’s market.
A war was brewing, they said. Goblins, trolls, ogres and mimics had been seen in the mountains and near Dragon’s Mist Lake. That was enough warning for Milo, who knew nobility well enough to realize his village had only been informed of the danger because the walls of their city would soon be hard pressed.
He returned to the farmer’s house as quick as his injured leg would carry, and shared the grim news. The farmer and Tay begged him to stay, but the Sarrokian’s business wasn’t finished yet. Levee filled every thought in his head, and he had to know she was safe.
Logic scolded Milo for such foolish heroics. His reasoning claimed that the prince and his hoard of guards would be more than enough to protect her. But now that a second hour passed with him alone in this empty meeting room, he knew his instincts were well placed.
Levee wasn’t here.
The thought itself sent a wave of fury through the heated Sarrokian, and he growled a slew of obscenities under his breath.
“Your anger will do you no good here, Sarrokian.”
Milo turned to see General Mendeley standing behind him, his arms folded behind his back. The southerner’s ears dipped low, annoyed by Rayhan’s sneaky approach. Then again, the Sarrokian was so caught up in his own thoughts, the general could’ve slammed the door behind him and Milo may never have noticed.
With a sigh, he offered the noble a civil nod. “Beggin’ yer pardon, General. It’s never easy waitin’ on bad news.”
“You’re quick to assume the worst,” Rayhan observed.
“Why else would I be waitin’ hours to see a girl that should be here in this palace?” Milo tapped the floor with his cane in emphasis, and the general’s eyes flicked to the wooden aid.
“How is your leg?” the general asked. “I heard you took on a troll all by yourself. That’s quite a feat, Master Kasateno.”
“My leg is fine,” the Sarrokian leaned both hands on the staff. Truly, it was not. Although the swelling was nearly gone, the painful pinch that was supposed to fade with it still nipped his hip like a pesky dog. However, he wasn’t about to admit such lameness. Not to the mighty general, or to anyone else for that matter. Milo Kasateno would not be pinned as weak. “I’d appreciate it if ye’d tell me what I came here to know.”
“Miss Tensley is not here, this much is true,” Rayhan breathed, dreading this conversation. “She was part of a scout group that went missing yesterday evening.”
Milo tensed, his jaw clenched in mounting fury.
Rayhan held his hand up to stave the Sarrokian’s temper. “We don’t know where she is just yet.” He recognized the pain in Milo’s eyes and knew without a doubt that the tan-skinned rahee loved this girl. It was the only thing that would drive a commoner to barge so foolishly into the prince’s palace. It took Rayhan quite some time to doctor the pride of the two injured sentries and prevent some sort of action against the bold Sarrokian.
But the noble general did it because he could relate to those emotions. He understood the ache of a love he couldn’t have, and now could not protect. This strong young male deserved some bit of hope in all of this if he could provide it. “Though I happen to know she is safe.”
Milo’s orange eyes rose from their solemn angle toward the floor, their simmering depths not ready to give up. “Tell me everythin’ you know.” It was a daring request, but again the general respected the desperate lover’s courage.
He nodded his consent. “Walk with me, Sarrokian.”
Through the halls they strode, back into the crisp open air of fall. A season that usually left everyone feeling giddier than normal only reminded Milo of the chill that gripped his heart. Where was Levee now? And would he ever see her smile again?
Not long ago, he and Levee held peaceful lives with a future set bright before them. Now everything seemed lost, fragile, tattered. Milo barely noticed their trek until the stables loomed over them. He hesitated, wondering if this was part of the noble’s ploy to send him back on his way. “Where are we going?”
Rayhan turned and rested a hand on the tense Sarrokian’s shoulder. “I am not against you, boy. Relax.”
Milo shrugged off the general’s touch. “Put yerself in my boots. Would you?”
Rayhan considered the thought and nodded, realizing the foreigner’s skepticism had a rightful place against the common face of discrimination. “I understand your cynicism better than you realize,” he assured, hoping to put the agitated male at ease. “I too have felt the sting of prejudice.”
Milo offered a look that said he was far from convinced.
“It’s true,” the general smiled. “When I was your age, I was sent inside an elven city as an emissary among less than tolerant hosts.” Rayhan adjusted his collar to reveal a deep scar across his collarbone, emphasizing his point. “Being different isn’t easy, especially when it marks you as the punch line of everyone else’s joke,” he confessed. “But opportunity hasn’t shut its door on you. Here you are receiving a personal audience few common folk ever receive, and your concerns do not fall on heartless ears.”
The Sarrokian raised a curious ear as he studied the sturdy general’s expression. He had heard Rayhan was an empathetic leader. The male was stern, like his father before him, yet lacked the former general’s cold demeanor.
“With all due respect, General, ya still haven’t answered my question.”
The noble let his gaze drift toward the pasture where Diego stood, the unicorn’s solemn, distant stare fixated on the mountains. Diego had returned yesterday evening assuring them that Jaycent and Levee were alive, and safe. Although Rayhan had been relieved to hear that Skalabur had delivered the duo from harm, their absence stirred a deep concern inside the general. “I cannot tell you much other than she resides in the company of some unexpected allies north of us.”
“The gypsies?” Milo guessed.
“So it would seem,” Rayhan agreed, careful not to let his tone reveal more than necessary. Diego had mentioned Patchi’s name, but also a foreign tribe called the re’shahna; ancient kin he hadn’t heard of except within the fables of his childhood. Diego had never given Rayhan any reason to doubt him, but his report was almost too surreal to believe. The general needed to investigate this deeper, and somehow find a way to bring the prince home before the goblin fodder made their march to Nevaharday’s front door.
“When will she return?” Milo asked.
Rayhan could only shrug. “When it is safe.”
The Sarrokian limped in step with the general, his eyes on his boots as he let those words sink in. Rayhan admired this commoner’s will, and knew the stubborn young male wouldn’t leave without some type of reassurance. Perhaps the boy could be some use in all of this. With Jaycent gone, Rayhan needed someone who could bridge an alliance between the Nevahardans and the gypsies.
“How well do you know Levee’s kind, Master Kasateno?”
“Pardon?” the Sarrokian snapped away from his own thoughts.
“The gypsies,” Rayhan clarified.
“Better than most, but that’s not sayin’ much,” Milo cautiously replied. “Why?”
“I need someone to be a liaison between Nevaharday and the nomadic folk. As of right now, we don’t have anyone who can speak to them on their terms, and I wouldn’t dare send a messenger that would offend the strange folk even further.”
Milo paused, hands on his cane as he considered the general’s offer. “I’m listenin’.”
“If you think you can do it, I’ll offer you and your family one room in the palace. You’ll be working closely with me, so any news of Levee will reach your ears soon after mine. It’s a good offer.”
“What’s the catch?”
Rayhan laughed. “Catch? Boy, if you get the gypsies on our side before the fighting ensues, you’ll be a hero to us all.”
Milo shook the general’s hand. “I’m not carin’ for your rooms. I’ll keep my own place. Other than that…” the cowpoke paused as if to consider his decision. “Ya got yourself a deal, sirrah.”