**Also available in "Guardians of a Giant's Treasure" anthology**
For three years, Jeth and Kodie and their soldiers have guarded a hostile mountain pass against the invading Dathians in a war that has waged for decades. Jeth has the blood of giants running through his veins, and it has caused bigotry and death to dog his steps his entire life. After a childhood tragedy shatters his world, it takes the courage and loyalty of his best friend, Kodie, to protect him from himself. Jeth knows he’s a danger to everyone around him and joins the army to control and focus the black rage inherited from his bestial bloodline. Kodie follows his friend into the army, determined to stay close to the one he loves most. He has never revealed his deeper feelings for Jeth, and is ignorant of Jeth’s own feelings. Their bond is too precious for either of them to risk rejection. Yet they might have to take the chance when Kodie’s life is threatened, and their enemy forges an alliance with a giant clan. Jeth must call upon his darker heritage to brave the hostile environment to make an alliance of his own—with a giant clan that knows more about him than he does himself.
Kodie stared at the ground, shivering. He pulled his cloak closer, knowing it wouldn’t help much. Even his thick breeches and fur-lined cloak barely muted the frigid punch. He stood inside his general’s tent, waiting for a response. He’d reported his actions as duty commanded and shame filled every word. Ignorance and battle greed lost them good soldiers. Such was the burden of command.
He led most of the soldiers back to main camp and sent another small unit to relieve those left behind in the cave. There were other such temporary camps pocketed around the only trail known to bisect the Lash Mountains. Senician soldiers kept an eye on several parts of the trail to make sure Dathians didn’t get too far. A few Senician scouts reported other trails that could also be used to scale the mountains but they were far more hazardous. Yet Kodie wouldn’t put it past the Dathians, and their king, to grow desperate and use them.READ MORE
There was yet another looming threat in those mountains beyond the weather, deadly terrain, and enemy soldiers: giants. Both mountain and ice giants thrived up here, so close to the clouds and frozen sky. Yet after generations of the army stationed on the mountains, not once had giants given them any attention. Kodie was thankful for that. The very last thing they needed was to be noticed by those enormous beasts.
“You didn’t know the lake was there.” His general’s voice was deep and rough, and though he spoke softly, Kodie knew he could trumpet his words over large distances.
Kodie looked at his general’s back and swallowed hard. “I did, sir. I am ashamed to say I did. But I didn’t realize we were standing on the blasted lake until it was too late. It was only when the ice cracked under my feet that I come to my senses and order the troops back.”
Little good it did.
“It was careless, Kodie. You were careless, and we lost soldiers because of it.”
“Yes, sir.” Kodie grimaced. He stared at the general’s hunched back as he leaned over the table, over the map held down with rocks. Despite his rank, their general had few comforts. They were nearly all equals up here, where survival was a daily struggle. They depended on each other for food and warmth. Without trust and loyalty, they would all perish.
Furs blanketed the floor at the back of the tent, indicating the sleeping area. The table was the only piece of furniture, and Kodie knew the map was continually being added to, every time a scout reported new cliffs, lakes, or peaks. Apparently, units before them didn’t deem that a worthy endeavor, and Kodie always cursed them for their carelessness. Previous units had been lulled into complacency by long periods of inactivity. With King Kurmain all that changed.
The general straightened as much as the tent would allow. Around eight feet tall, General Jeth was intimidating and powerful, broad and vicious. Kodie also knew he could be gentle and playful, and would even sing when he was in the mood.
They’d been friends for twenty years. Good friends. Brothers. Due to that bond, Kodie felt his failure more acutely.
Jeth turned around, and Kodie straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. He stood over six feet himself, taller than anyone of his acquaintance. It was humbling to be near Jeth and feel dwarfed, though he was mostly used to it, since Jeth had always been taller and broader than him.
With black hair, onyx eyes, and dark skin, Jeth was a sight to behold. His heavy, thick brow gave him a perpetually angry expression, and the brutish structure of his face and body indicated his deadly heritage. Giant blood ran through his veins, and it gave him strength, height, and imperviousness to cold. He also retained their darker nature. Their black rage.
“I’m disappointed in you,” Jeth said. “But I can hardly throw any stones. More than anyone here, I know what it is to be lost in battle frenzy.”
Their eyes met, sharing a tragic memory that still haunted them both.
“I’m sorry, Jeth,” Kodie whispered.
“I know.” Jeth stepped closer and pulled Kodie into his arms, holding him tightly against his chest. Kodie locked his arm around Jeth’s waist, taking deep breaths of his scent, and it calmed him, warmed him inside-out. He indulged himself for a moment and buried his face against Jeth’s chest. Jeth’s body was always a furnace, and for the first time in years, Kodie felt warm.
Jeth could easily crush him without much effort but Kodie’s trust in his friend was absolute. Long past was any fear that Jeth would hurt him. Physically, at least.
“We will get through this. We will survive this, or so help me, we die, taking as many of those bastards with us as possible.”
Kodie smiled. “Damn right.”
Jeth pulled back, and Kodie nearly clutched him tighter, wanting to stay in that safe, warm cocoon for the rest of his life. He called himself pathetic and forced his arms to drop, forced his expression blank. Jeth gently tugged his beard and Kodie snorted. Playing along, Kodie reached up and tugged Jeth’s thick, bushy beard. Jeth grinned, white teeth flashing.
“The women keened,” Kodie said, returning to sober events. “The dead got that much.”
“General!” a soldier shouted from beyond the tent.
A young soldier, one of the newer recruits, stumbled in, pale under his helmet. “Smoke was seen near the next rise. One of our scouts moved closer and claimed it was a small squadron of Dathian soldiers. She—she swore she saw green feathers in their helmets.”
Damn. Those were the elite warriors of Dathia, known as fendras. The king’s personal guard and often employed as assassins. What were they doing on these gods’ forsaken mountains? The king truly had grown desperate.
“A few of our soldiers stayed behind to watch their activity. Perhaps they wait until night to ambush us.”
Jeth shook his head, stroking his beard. “No. This must be a ploy.”
Kodie agreed. The elite warriors wouldn’t be so easily spotted if they didn’t want to be. That meant they either wanted to be noticed or they weren’t actually the elite and simply wore the green feathers as a trick. Either way it was smarter to observe them for a while.
“It is too obvious,” Jeth concluded, his line of thinking parallel with Kodie’s. He turned to Kodie. “We will increase our night watchers and make sure they are always observed. Tell the soldiers to stay a sensible distance away. We can’t afford to lose any more.”
Kodie barely avoided a wince. He merely nodded and gestured for the scout to leave. He took a deep breath. “The rest of my unit should return by daybreak. We can send out another scouting party, north this time. I thought about going with them and—”
Kodie looked up and blinked in surprise. “May I ask why not?”
“Fresh troops arrived this morning. I need you to train them.”
Kodie rubbed his chin. “Great. Fresh blood to cover the snow.”
Jeth laid a large, rough hand on Kodie’s shoulder and squeezed. “I feel as you do. But in that, we have no control. We can only train them as best we can to survive.”
Kodie nodded, acutely feeling Jeth’s hand, the strength and warmth of it. It made his groin spark with interest. He was hopeless.COLLAPSE
**Also available in "Guardians of a Giant's Treasure" anthology.**