EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Day of War by Cliff Graham (Zondervan).

Prologue

The young man studied the bed of the creek through the sunlit ripples. It was cold water, carried from the snowmelt further to the north, cleansing the valley of winter — and shallow enough that he could see the gentle nudge of the stream against the stones.

He pulled one of the stones out of the bed and rubbed it dry with the edge of his tunic. It was perfectly round, just the right size, andsmooth, free of divots and blemishes. Perfect, as though it had been created simply to be there waiting for him.

He chose five of them.

He stood in the cold water, so soothing to his feet after walking the entire day. His back was stiff from the pack he carried, and the chafing of his sandals on his ankles was worse than normal after such a journey. He let his feet soak in the icy stream and closed his eyes, listening.

The rugged gulley cut by the stream was deep enough to shield him from the many eyes that watched for him, from behind and from the front. They would be waiting, and his time was short. He opened his eyes and looked at the crest of the bank on the other side of the brook. It would begin soon.

The mud of the riverbed covered his feet as he stepped through it. On the other side, he stood at the foot of the bank of sand and gravel. A few steps and he would crest it, coming into full view once again of the gathered masses of men on the rolling hills lining the valley. He felt their enormous presence, felt the lust for death permeating their ranks.

His breathing was shallow as he counted out his timing once more. Swing, measure, swing, measure again. Three times, then release.

He had seen five of them. The one in the field below, four more behind him in the ranks. They might be brothers. All were as massive as the one now shouting in the field.

The young man blinked. None of his own brothers had come down with him. They had responsibilities, were valuable to their father. They had not cared enough about his fate to stand with him. And they had never known the covering.

Today he would show it to them.

Holding his staff over his shoulder, he began to climb up the sandy bank from the creek. The sun was directly overhead and his shadow was small. He spoke quietly as he climbed, praying as though someone climbing next to him needed to hear it. He spoke aloud to himself often in times of peril and all throughout the days of peace.

He reached the top of the bank and the field came once more into view. Glittering ranks of men, wearing armor and bearing standards, lined the top of the valley around him, thousands upon thousands, and the sound of their shouting and taunting now reached him in full volume, no longer muffled by the sandbank. He had enjoyed the quiet while it lasted, but now it was time. He let the noise of the men he despised wash over him, focusing his growing anger. He clenched and unclenched his fists. A short distance away on a small outcropping of stones, highlighted against the barren slope leading up to the pagan army, the massive warrior stood with his weapons raised.

It was the largest figure any of them had ever seen, larger than two normal men. He carried a spear that looked as big as a tree. A curved scimitar, several times heavier than a normal sword, was strapped across the back of his heavy armor. He wore greaves to cover his shins, a plated armor breastplate, and a thick bronze helmet with a crest of horsehair billowing out of the top. Chain mail resembling fish scales covered his torso and glinted in the midday sunlight, shining so brightly that the young man glanced away for a moment.