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CHOSENA LOST BOOK
By TED DEKKER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Ted Dekker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDAY ONE
Qurong, general of the Horde, stood on the tall dune five miles west of the green forest, ignoring the fly that buzzed around his left eye.
His flesh was nearly white, covered with a paste that kept his skin from itching too badly. His long hair was pulled back and woven into dreadlocks, then tucked beneath the leather body armor cinched tightly around his massive chest.
"Do you think they know?" the young major beside him asked.
Qurong's milky white horse, chosen for its ability to blend with the desert, stamped and snorted.
The general spit to one side. "They know what we want them to know," he said. "That we are gathering for war. And that we will march from the east in four days."
"It seems risky," the major said. His right cheek twitched, sending three flies to flight.
"Their forces are half what they once were. As long as they think we are coming from the east, we will smother them from the west."
"The traitor insists that they are building their forces," the major said.
"With young pups!" Qurong scoffed.
"The young can be crafty."
"And I'm not? They know nothing about the traitor. This time we will kill them all."
Qurong turned back to the valley behind him. The tents of his third division, the largest of all Horde armies, which numbered well over three hundred thousand of the most experienced warriors, stretched out nearly as far as he could see.
"We march in four days," Qurong said. "We will slaughter them from the west."
Chapter TwoTwelve of the forest's strongest and bravest young fighters crouched in their brown battle leathers at each end of the grassy stadium field, waiting for the command to stand and fight for the hairy ball sitting at center field. Five thousand spectators stood in the stands carved from the earth, holding their collective breath. Four squad leaders were to be chosen today, and each one given a house to own, the choice of any horse, and an emerald-handled sword-making them the envy of every man, woman, and child in the village.
All of this would be decided by one man: Thomas Hunter, supreme commander of the Forest Guard.
Johnis stood next to his father, Ramos, shivering a little. It wasn't cold, but the breeze dried the sweat on his neck and made him cool. So he told himself, anyway.
He had dark hair to his shoulders and, according to his father, a strong jaw that was sometimes best kept closed. His nose was sharp and his lips full, giving him the appearance that he was fourteen, not sixteen.
He stared at the hairy Horde ball at center field. His mother, Rosa, had been responsible for that lump of Scab hair. Three months had passed since she'd been killed by the Horde at the forest's edge while searching for a special plant, the catalina cactus, whose herbal power might've healed a fever that had come over Johnis. The Forest Guard had been to the north in battle, but she'd refused to wait for an escort while her boy suffered.
His mother had always been like that, dropping everything on his account. Sweet Mother, with her long, dark hair and ruby lips.
Mother, why did you go? Please forgive me, dear Mother.
Johnis had thrown himself on the ground and wailed for the whole village to hear. His father had left the forest in a rage and returned with the long, tangled hair from ten Horde he'd killed that very afternoon-the makings of that hairy Horde ball on the field now.
But nothing eased the pain in Johnis's chest.
Two weeks ago Thomas Hunter had announced the decision to lower the Forest Guard's recruitment age from eighteen to sixteen. He was looking to boost the fighting force by one thousand. The forests had erupted in debate.
Those who had protested had cried in fear at the thought of their sons and daughters entering battle against the Horde. They all knew that the Forest Guard was outnumbered ten to one. They knew that every time the Guard went to battle, many died. They knew that the weakest, their sons and daughters, would die first.
But the people of the forest also knew that the Horde had sworn to kill them all. All living followers of Elyon knew, whether or not they admitted it publicly, that the fate of the Forest Dwellers rested squarely on the shoulders of the youngest fighters now joining the Forest Guard.
All sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds worth their salt had then signed up to be considered. With his mother's death fresh in his mind, Johnis had been one of the first in line. The Guard had dismissed all but two thousand, from which they would select the final thousand fighters.
Johnis was one of those who'd been dismissed. Too small, they said. He was just barely sixteen and still too wounded from his mother's death. Maybe next time, if there was a next time.
"What do you say, Johnis?" his father whispered. "Who is the strongest?"
Johnis scanned the players in this game Thomas Hunter called football-a name that supposedly came from his dreams of another land. All twenty-four were already mighty fighters, even though none was older than seventeen. Roughly half were women, and of those Johnis thought maybe Darsal was the strongest. Not the largest, but the strongest. And very quick.
She crouched fewer than fifty feet from where Johnis stood on the sidelines. Her fingers were wrapped tightly around the same three-foot fighting stick they had all been given. Muscles rippled up her arm, glistening with sweat. The side of her sleeveless tunic was stained with a little blood-it was, after all, a full-contact sport. Within thirty days the recruits would be swinging razorsharp swords in full battle against the Horde. No one dared enter the Forest Guard fearful of a little blood when so much more was at stake.
Her long, brown hair was tucked under a leather helmet and had been pulled back into a ponytail, showing a strong, smooth jawline to her ear on the right side of her face. A terrible scar marked her left-a burn that forced Johnis to stare and wonder what had put it there. It made her more fearsome than ugly. Whatever had caused the wound had also gotten her left shoulder, although her leather armor covered most of the scar there.
The Horde had killed her father. Johnis could practically see the thirst for revenge in her squinting eyes. But something else had happened to make her stick close to Billos, another fighter in contention for the top spot today. They were from the same forest and were clearly very close. At first Johnis had assumed they were brother and sister, but no.
"What do you say, lad?" his father asked again.
"Darsal," he said, in a whisper that sounded hoarse.
His father grunted. "Now there's a choice. She'd make any man a fine wife." He glanced down at Johnis. "A little more muscle on those bones and you could make a play for her yet, boy. Though she seems a bit stuck on the other youngster."
His father nudged him, and Johnis gave him a weak smile.
Father could not know that his frequent comparisons with those who'd been selected to try out for the Forest Guard bothered him. The honor of wearing the hardened leather breastplates, wielding the Guard swords and whips, riding the best horses, being watched by everyone else as you walked down the path on your way to battle-who wouldn't trade his life for a chance to be called one of the Forest Guard?
Who, besides Johnis? Truly, he wasn't sure he would make a good fighter in bloody battle. In fact, he was quite sure he wouldn't.
Still, Father's small comments made Johnis feel weak, reminding him that he stood on the sidelines because he wasn't worthy. He shifted on his feet and crossed his arms over his chest, hugging himself.
Thomas Hunter paced across the field. There wasn't a man or woman among them who wouldn't be honored to kiss the commander's hand. The Forest Guard had saved the forests many times, and Thomas Hunter was the reason for it all.
He slid his emerald-handled sword from its metal sheath, filling the stadium with the sound of steel scraping steel. Perfect silence settled on the crowd.
Thomas swung the sword absently, neatly cutting the grass at his feet in an arc.
"Is this all I can expect from you?" his voice rang out. He jabbed the air with his sword. "I'm looking for four leaders to step forward and show they are worthy to stand by my side."
No one responded. What Thomas could be looking for that he hadn't already seen was beyond Johnis.
"Take a look around," Thomas shouted. He slowly swung his sword across the stadium. "The fate of every man, woman, and child in this arena will be in the hands of the Forest Guard. And you say you want to lead that Guard? You are all either mad or complete fools, because I don't see a leader in the lot."
He paced back to the sideline, studying the line of twelve on his right, then the line on his left. Behind him the ball of hair lay undisturbed.
To win, one team had to run to the middle, pick up the ball, and cross the other team's goal line. What seemed simple enough was made very difficult by the fact that the other team was armed with fighting sticks.
The day had started with a hundred of the most promising recruits. Seventy-six had been dismissed, seventeen of them on stretchers.
It was down to these two teams of twelve each.
Thomas raised his sword high, then swung it down hard. "Go!"
The two lines of recruits silently bolted from where they crouched and raced toward the ball on a collision course.
Excerpted from CHOSEN by TED DEKKER Copyright © 2007 by Ted Dekker. Excerpted by permission.
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