Not for the first time, Karmis looked up at his big friend with wonder. He was eleven feet tall, his skin rough and rugged and his beard long. A maul dangled casually in his hand, a weapon so big a strong man would have struggled to carry it. On the ground before them the goblin lay dead, its blood staining the snow. Flakes were catching in the giant's beard and settling on the fresh body.
The giant shrugged. "On?" he said.
"On," Karmis confirmed.
They hiked along the mountain ridge one after the other, since the path wasn't wide enough for them both. He looked at the giant's wide, hunched back, watching the muscles move as he picked his way over the rocks. He was a simple fellow who spoke few words, like most giants, taking the weight of the world on his shoulders with little trouble. Most things, even things that would break normal men, he met with a simple shrug.
The night before, they'd found themselves camping at the base of a large cliff, sheltering from the wind. But the wind changed direction in the night and Karmis found himself sitting awake, shivering and close to death. The howls of wolves and other, darker beasts of winter floated through the haunted northern air. In that moment, Karmis wished he was somewhere, anywhere else. Their task seemed unimportant then. In the face of the fear and hypothermia, he found himself panicking.
The giant woke up and pulled him closer. "It's nothing," he said, and it calmed him down.
Karmis didn't forget things like that.
Many would raise an eyebrow at a man choosing to travel the frozen north with a giant. They'd be afraid of being betrayed, he imagined, but beyond that, they'd struggle without the conversation. Giants were not creatures that needed to talk all the time, unlike humans.
But he wouldn't have done it with anyone else.
His friend stopped, sniffing the air, maul draped over his shoulder. His brow was furrowed with concern, an expression Karmis rarely saw. He was looking into the valley below.
And Karmis saw it too.
Karmis knew what he was thinking. He put a hand on the giant's forearm. "Come on, buddy. Don't worry about it."
The giant shook his head angrily and they carried on. He held his head high after that, forcing himself not to look down. Karmis waited for those words, the words he always heard.
"Heard enough about love."
It was a personal mantra to the giant, a way of coping. What he was coping with, Karmis didn't know. The giant didn't want to talk about it. Something buried in the past, it seemed. And best left there.
It was the only thing that bothered him.