They were all going to die. As soon as the morning sun rose over the tundra, their few remaining troops would be wiped out. They were surrounded. Permitted one final night.
Sebastian trudged through the offering of fresh snow, his chest tightening, his breath billowing clouds of mist before his eyes. The snow’s arrival had warmed the frigid air somewhat.
His men were suffering.
Early spring on Kronos was not for the weak-hearted. Any season would test the hardiest of those who found themselves there. The third planet from Mycea had five seasons ranging from sweltering heat to bone-chilling drops in temperature few could survive. The five seasons coinciding with the animals and fauna that could be hunted and gathered during those times.
Fortunately, spring had brought them an abundance of game to feed themselves. Early spring had not been as kind. They had lost dozens of men to hypothermia and starvation.
With one of Kronos’ moons reflecting off the fresh snow, it was light enough to see, but the Marjar would bide their time until morning. They had been trying to take control of Kronos for months. What was one more night? Sebastian looked out over the undulating, treeless hills of white. The ore-rich mining planet was desolate but had a haunting beauty to it.
Perhaps death would be as peaceful.
Sebastian nodded to the guards, their sheathed swords likely chipped and grubby with blood. They would not be granted a reprieve to tend to them tonight.
The king deserved one last night of peace.
The flap of the canvas tent was stiff from the cold but folded back enough to allow Sebastian access. It fell into place behind him, containing what little heat was being offered by the oil lamps scattered about the interior.
He had been summoned here tonight.
His heart thundered heavy and rapid in his chest at the reason why.
It all started the day he stepped off a warship at the Neter colony, the heart of the empire, eight years ago. The respect—the mutual admiration. The stern face that had simply cocked one eyebrow upon seeing Sebastian for the first time.
Blood, glory, and conquest; eight years of battles had been fought by his side.
He was not there to talk.
Sebastian stepped forward into the tent and bowed deeply to the man watching him. “Your Majesty, you summoned me.”
“This is the end for us, I fear.” The king shifted in his seat and motioned to the chair across from him. As always, there was kindness in his brilliant green eyes, a kindness that rarely reached the other features of his face. Firm jaw jutted, his lips were drawn tight, his breathing steady.
“Have we no options?” Sebastian settled into the seat across from his king, accepting the cup of wine offered him.
“You know we don’t.” The king rose to his feet, circled around to Sebastian’s side of the table, and laid his hand on Sebastian’s shoulder. “That’s not why you’re here.”
Sebastian placed his hand atop the king’s. “I know.”
The king leaned down and kissed the side of Sebastian’s neck, his warm breath drifting seductively across Sebastian’s skin. It made its way to his lips. Sebastian breathed it in.
“Tonight, I need to know what I’ve denied myself of for so long.”
Sebastian wrapped his hand around the back of the king’s neck, drawing him closer, the king’s short-cropped, blond hair bristling against his palm.
“Meshia …” A simple whisper of desire. The fires that had been burning for years between them would be quenched this night.
And tomorrow, they would die.