Disclaimer: Below is one of the chapters cut from Chivalry’s Code. After Adele sent me this beautiful commissioned portrait, I thought it would be better shared than wasted.
For love fans, there is an uncensored version of this chapter you can read here. Due to its mature content, it is password sensitive so it cannot be accidentally stumbled upon. If the direct link doesn’t work for you, the password is LoveInSarrokye.
Milo looked up from the hook he was stringing, his thick black eyebrow arched in amusement. “A cougar fish, huh?” Licking his finger, he smoothed the frayed line and slid it through, securing the hook with a tight knot. “That’s a new one. You gonna add it to your book?”
“You betcha. Come see!” In a blink, Sadi disappeared out the door again, his footsteps echoing across the small fishing boat’s deck. Milo heard a light thud as he skipped over the rail and onto the dock. Sadi was an eleven year old thrill seeker. He carried a sketchbook where he documented all of his adventures. Milo guessed it was his karma, for he had been just as much trouble as a lad, if not more so. Grabbing his walking stick, the rahee stood up from his chair and secured the hook to the pole of his rod before hanging it on the wall.
“Cougar fish,” he chuckled to himself. Hikayah brought in every kind of warm water sea fish, but never had he heard of such a thing. The rahee strode up the steps that led to the deck, a light limp in his gate that served as a reminder of his own past adventures.
Outside, a warm sun beat down on Hikayah’s docks. The heat caressed his dark skin, the warm breeze tickling the black curls he kept wrangled in a ponytail behind his shoulders. Milo squinted as he pulled his worn leather cowboy hat down over his amber eyes.
“Did you hear?” A sweet voice that could only belong to Levee broadened his lips into a charming grin. Milo walked down the ramp that led to the docks where his mate stood waiting for him. Her gaze followed Sadi to where he had his head hung over the gunwale of a neighboring boat.
“Yep. Sven’s caught himself a cougar fish,” Milo’s arm hooked around her caramel shoulders. She looked up at him and winked, her freckled cheeks scrunched in a grin of her own.
“Whatever it is, it tore up Sven’s net. That man manages to catch all the wrong things.”
Levee’s hand found Milo’s palm and he laced his fingers around hers. “Let’s see what the human dragged in.”
They walked together to Sven’s boat where a hairy man with sun burnt skin was speaking to Sadi. The boy nodded enthusiastically while Sven poked whatever was on his deck with a fishing knife. “Lookit them teeth, boy. This things made t’ rip its food apart an’ spit out the bones when he’s done wittit.”
“Whoa,” marveled Sadi, his dark brown hair dangling in salty tendrils over the dead thing’s body. His head jerked up to meet Sven’s, his eyes double their normal size. “Can I touch it?”
“Hold on now, Sadikaye,” Milo rested his arm on rail beside his son and Sadi sat up. He knew when he heard his full name that his Pa meant business. “What’ve I told ya?”
Sighing, the boy recited Milo’s words. “Don’t touch nothin’ if ya don’t know what it is.” He folded his arms on the rail and rested his chin on top, his eyes staring longingly at the dead fish with daggers for teeth. “But I told ya, it’s a cougar fish!”
Sven gave a hearty laugh, tapping the dead thing’s gray scales with the blunt side of his blade. “It’s as good a name as any.” Looking at Milo, the fisherman asked, “You’ve been ’round these waters longer than I have. What do you think it is, Capt’n?”
Despite his limp, Milo remained fairly agile. A decade of acclimating to the old battle wound had made depending on his good leg second nature. Turning so his back was to the boat, he hopped into a seat upon the rail and used his weight to turn and plant his feet onboard. Gravity did the rest as he landed in a kneeling position beside the dead fish. Sadi climbed up behind him and leaned curiously over Milo’s shoulder.
Milo pressed his lips in a baffled smirk, his arm perched on his knee as he studied the strange thing. “I don’t think this is what messed up your nets, Sven. I’m guessin’ its been dead awhile,” Milo scratched scruff on his chin as he stared at the fish’s large, bloodshot eyes. “The body is bloated and its dorsal fin and tail have pieces missing like other fish have been feedin’ on him.” Taking Sven’s offered dagger, he flipped the fish over. Sven stood up and Sadi made a face, for half the flesh on the creature’s bottom maw was missing, revealing a pale white jaw bone. Milo pointed to the large eyes and overbite with the tip of Sven’s blade. “See the big eyes and jutted maw? This is a deep water fish. You wouldn’t catch it in your net if it were where it was supposed to be.”
Milo rested the blade between one of its teeth in attempt to open the jaw a little wider. What happened next surprised them all as its jaw snapped shut, breaking the blade in half. Milo stumbled to his feet and herded Sadi back with his arm. The fish began flopping with life, its long, eel-like tail smacking Sven’s feet out from under him.
“Sadi, get back!” Milo scrambled for the broken dagger as Levee helped Sadi off the boat. The fish, now resurrected it seemed, slithered and flapped desperately against the slick deck. Grabbing its tail, Milo pulled the fearsome fish toward him and jabbed the broken dagger through its eye.
The fish’s jaw quivered, then its body fell limp once more, leaving Sven and Milo to stare at one another, incredulous.
“The thing was dead, Milo,” Sven swore. “I would na have let yer boy near ‘em had I not been sure o’ it.”
Milo picked up his hat that had fallen off in the scuffle and placed it on his head. He stared at the fish, perplexed. “Ain’t blamin’ ya,” he grunted. “Everythin’ about the damned thing said it’d been dead awhile.”
“Obviously, we were wrong,” Sven grabbed one of his fishing spears and stabbed the fish through its belly for good measure. It didn’t move. “I’ll gut it now and make certain this thing won’t live t’ bite again.”
“Don’t bother,” Milo climbed off his boat to join his family. “Throw it in the water and be rid of the thing. Let the sea gods deal with it.”
Sven nodded and Milo ruffled Sadi’s hair. “Suddenly Pa’s rules make sense, huh Sadi-boy?”
Sadi, amazed and dumbfounded, nodded as he watched Sven throw the thing overboard. “I don’t think I’ll be touchin’ strange things for awhile.”
Milo chuckled. “That’s smart. Here,” he handed Sadi his walking stick. “Why don’t ya go practice you’re fightin’ lessons… just in case we encounter more cougar fish.”
Sadi’s eyes lit up again, the fish fiasco forgotten. Milo silently thanked the gods for the gift of distraction. He didn’t want to answer questions he didn’t have an answer to.
Levee shook her head as her son grabbed the stick and immediately took to fighting invisible enemies across the dock. “Milo, that wasn’t normal.”
The rahee shrugged, though he didn’t disagree. “The sea holds more mysteries than I’d like t’ admit…”
“No, I mean beyond that.” She shook her head. “Weird things are happening in Sarrokye.” She turn to stand in front of him, her fingers tracing the trim of his vest. “I talked to Bry in the market. Inexplicable deaths have been happening inside the city; incidents that sound a lot like dark magic.”
Milo leaned in closer, his voice low. “You think Shadow’s been meddlin’ in Sarrokye?”
“I know he has,” she whispered back.
“Heyo,” Sven called. “You two look like ya could use some time alone,” he winked. “Why don’t I look after yer little warrior for a few hours?”
Levee glanced at Sadi, then to Sven. “Are you sure?”
The fisherman waved a bear-sized hand. “It’d be my pleasure.”
Milo tipped his hat to their friend and reminded Sadi to be careful before escorting his mate back to their boat. Levee ran her palm against the newly sanded rail as they stepped on board. Thrice Lucky had been their vessel and their home since they’d taken refuge in Hikayah twelve years ago. Her transition from land to sea had been hard at first, but eventually this boat became a place of comfort and safety; two things Milo had always managed to provide for her.
“What’s goin’ on that makes you think Shadow’s behind all the mischief?” Milo asked as he opened the door to their cozy cabin. Inside, a family-sized bed took up most of the room. Upon the walls hung various rods and lures along with two maps: one of Sarrokye and another of the surrounding islands. She lost herself in the walls, her arms crossed guardedly against her chest.
Milo’s ears drifted back, his bright orange eyes filled with concern. “What is it, Lev?”
The former gypsy turned to face him, the silver trinkets on her purple sash ringing lightly. “I met with Bry today,” she began. “He told me Shadow’s soldiers have infiltrated Sarrokye, just as they did Nevaharday. Dressed as mercenaries, refugees, artisans… you cannot tell them apart from everyone else. They are hunting gypsies right now, picking off women and children in attempt to extract information from their people.”
Milo’s shoulder fell against the door frame, the weight of the news hitting him like an arrow. He knew where this was headed, but he asked anyway, “Information about what?”
“About the Whisperer,” she mumbled, her guilt washing the mirth that Sadi had placed in her expression just minutes before.
Milo shook his head in silence and started pacing. They had feared and anticipated the day when Shadow would find her. The illusionist wasn’t quick to forget an enemy. When Nevaharday fell a decade ago, they fled to Sarrokye. Levee’s gift was too strong to hide. Equines could sense a Whisperer of her strength and would try to speak to her wherever she went.
They were forced to sell their horses, and Levee assumed Milo’s family name as a Kasateno to hide her identity. Milo did his own part in protecting them. He invested what money they had in a boat and forged a living for them as a fisherman. It kept the pair at sea and out of the public eye and soon after Sadi was born, no one really questioned the young family or where they came from. Kasateno was a local name after all, with generations of history invested in the southern port as sailors and fishermen.
“You cannot blame yourself for what the gypsies are going through,” Milo told her. “This is Shadow’s fault, not yours.”
Levee shook her head, refusing to accept that as an excuse. “I cannot sit back and watch them suffer.”
Milo closed his eyes and slowly breathed through his nose, trying to calm his stampeding heart. This wasn’t right. Things were finally settling down for them. It took a decade to get to this point. Shadow couldn’t ruin it. “So then we will deal with this, but with subtlety. We will pass a message along through one of their artisans in the marketplace and I will meet with this… Bry you speak about.”
“Milo, for once would you stop trying to protect me?” Levee threw her hands up, frustrated. “I am a gypsy, and I have spoken with Bry before. If anyone should be meeting with him, it’s me. Let me do this. I am not a little girl anymore. “
“You are right, Levee. You are not a little girl,” Milo tossed his hat on the bed. “But you are a mother. You say these people need you, but what about your son? While you’re runnin’ around the city seeking out news of trouble, he waits for ya. I do what I can to be a good father…”
“You are a good father,” Levee interjected.
“But he needs his mother, too,” Milo finished stubbornly, the tight black curls in his forelock falling into his eyes. The tight cross in Levee’s arm fell apart, her hands falling to her hips. She bit her lip, convicted by Milo’s words. Her mate ran a hand through his hair, the pain of her own stubbornness etched across his face. “This isn’t just about us anymore,” he stated softly.
Levee walked over and held his cheeks in her hands. Rising on her toes, she planted her lips against his own. Milo was right, again. Growing up together, he was always the one grounding her. She pulled away just as his arms wrapped around her waist.
“I love you both. You know this, but my gift comes with a huge responsibility.”
“Aye,” Milo drew his hands up to her shoulders and held them firmly. “One that we shall face together, as a family.”
A smile crept back into Levee’s full lips, her nose crinkling in a way that had always swept Milo’s heart. He kissed her cheeks, pleased that Levee was seeing things his way. “Think we can manage that?” he asked.
Levee shrugged playfully. With his broken gait, Milo led her to their bed, his lips grazing her skin with tiny, loving caresses. Levee closed her eyes and giggled, letting his touch chase away the darkness Shadow cast over their lives. Freeing his black hair from its loose tail, she ran her slender fingers through the ringlets and down his neck to the necklace hanging at his throat.
Milo’s kunah; the necklace that represented how he saw himself held two bone fishing hooks on a tight leather cord. They dangled over her nose and tapped her cheek as his lips found her sensitive ears. She inhaled his scent, filled with salt and leather, and blindly found her own kunah.
Hers consisted of a similar hook and an old copper coin. One trinket for each of the two rahee that owned her heart. A flash of guilt rolled through her as she remembered Prince Connor. Milo was her second mate, but she had never forgotten the first.
“Somethin’ wrong?” Milo whispered. Levee opened her eyes to find her fisherman’s warm, ocher gaze searching her expression.
Shaking Prince Connor’s memory from her mind, Levee wrapped her legs around his waist. “Aye,” she nipped at his neck. “You’re still talking.”
A white toothed grin that once made several women swoon sprouted from Milo’s lips. He grabbed her by the waist and rolled her on top of him. “Then make me stop, Levee Kasateno.”
“Gladly,” she purred, and in that moment Shadow’s threats could not weigh against them.