A red sun sank below the horizon, casting deep shadows between the rocky crevices of Moria, where twelve warriors huddled in the dark. Kaleb, the youngest, gripped the hilt of his sword and pulled the cowl of his cloak further down his face. He felt his Commander’s hand clasp his shoulder, as a cohort of Rephain, six-fingered giants, descendants of the Dark Lord's hybrids, pounded passed them.
Kaleb closed his eyes and reminded himself of where he was – Moria, the sacred mountain in Salem. The mountain where the Forefather had offered up his son, like a pagan, by request of the Spirit-King, as a test of faith.
The echoes of the Rephain footsteps faded and the Commander motioned them forward. They crept down the mountain on foot, crossing the southern ridge, and leaving the city of Salem behind. Even this city, in the heart of its pagan country, held meaning to Kaleb. Centuries earlier, as legend told it, its King was a priest of the Spirit-King, before the priesthood had even been established, and had broken bread and drank wine with the Forefather.
But all that was in the past. The Forefather had long been dead. And now they had been sent to scout out the land by the one they called the Law, an exiled prince and sole survivor of a mass genocide, who had rescued them from enslavement.
A full moon lit up the dark sky as the warriors trudged south, passed russet sand dunes and the rotting carcasses of wild boars. The occasional howl of a distant coyote broke the otherwise quiet night, and Kaleb pulled his cloak tighter around his body as the cold dessert wind whipped across the plain.
At the first light of dawn, they found themselves in a lush vineyard, overflowing with plush grapes several times larger than their natural size. Kaleb stopped and inhaled a deep breath of the fragrant air.
“Commander,” he said. “This land is enchanted.”
The Commander’s rugged face broke into a smile. “It’s not enchanted,” he said. “Enchantments are tricks of the Dark Lord. This land is blessed by the Spirit-King.”
“Blessed? Enchanted? What difference does it make?” voiced one of the others. “It’s never going to be ours.”
“The Law said this is the land promised to the Forefather,” the Commander said.
“The Law is a fool!” another said. “Did you not see the Rephain? They stood twelve feet, at least. You’re insane if you think you could lead us into battle against them!”
“It is not I who will lead you into battle, but the Spirit-King himself.”
Kaleb’s heart sank as the men continued to argue and he could see the light fade from his Commander’s eyes. It had been like this since they had been freed, despite the phenomena they had witnessed, and the supernatural power bestowed upon The Law.
“I see,” said another. “So we should take our puny army and march against the Rephain, because an invisible Spirit-King, who no one has ever seen, is supposedly going to protect us from being crunched like grasshoppers.”
Disheartened, Kaleb wandered further into the vineyard. The grapes were ripe and ready to be harvested and he couldn’t resist the temptation of plucking one and popping it into his mouth. Its juice erupted in his mouth and the sweet taste filled him with courage. Surely if the Spirit-King had led them this far, and if this land was promised to them, no mortals, giant or otherwise, would be able to defeat him.
Kaleb pulled at a cluster but its strong vine refused to break. He drew his sword and slashed at one of the weaker branches. With a thump, the grapes finally broke off and fell to the ground. Kaleb sheathed his sword and drug the cluster back to the group.
The Commander looked up bemused.
“I just thought we should take some to The Law,” Kaleb said sheepishly. “And the others. So they can see what the Spirit-King wishes to bless us with.”
“That thing is huge,” one of the men said. “How do you expect us to get it back to camp?”
The Commander shook his head and tousled Kaleb’s hair. “The Law will be pleased,” he said. “As will the Spirit-King.”
The other men rolled their eyes but the Commander rigged a pole through the cluster of grapes and ordered two of the men to carry it.
“Keep your faith, Kaleb,” the Commander said as they walked. “No matter what happens, keep your faith.”
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