About the Book of Mormon Stories…

I’ve got some bad news…

First a bit of explanation. I was clear across the country from my PC when some of you informed me you had not received the critiques on your Book of Mormon short stories. I got back to my PC the first week of this month and I immediately looked for the files.

They weren’t where I thought they would be. I continued to search to no avail. Then I remembered—and realized they were probably casualties in the great computer crash of Spring 2011. I went back through my offline storage files, but they weren’t there either. The only thing I can think is that I moved them from my main computer to the PC and the crash happened before my weekly back-up.

Unfortunately, the score sheets and line edits are probably lost forever.

However, I was able to recover the file where I gave each story a score of 1-5 and a brief summary of my thoughts. I will send that info to those of you who’ve requested it. I know it’s not the same but it’s the best I can do—and I sincerely apologize for both the delay and the lack of in-depth feedback.

Book of Mormon Anthology Follow-Up

[updated September 2011]

Does this mean you’ll finish the critiques on the Book of Mormon contest submissions soon?


Remember when I said I was in semi-retirement? That didn’t work out so well.

When I started the Book of Mormon contest, I was still in semi-retirement and would have had plenty of time to do the critiques and put a book together, as scheduled.

However, a week after the contest was over, I was forced out of semi-retirement and back into a “real” job—which has kept me incredibly busy. The contest and anthology (as well as daily blog posting) were pushed onto a back burner, where they are still simmering. I sincerely apologize for the delay.

Yes, I am still working on the story critiques—a little at a time. But no, I don’t think there will be enough to do a proper anthology. No, I do not have a date when you can expect to have the critiques finished.

So for those of you asking for an official statement…

Book of Mormon Contest/Anthology Rights Release:
As per the one-time publishing rights referenced HERE, all authors are hereby released from the conditions implicit with submission to the contest.

That means, if you submitted a story for the Book of Mormon contest/anthology and you’d like to submit it somewhere else, go ahead and do so. If your story is unavailable when and if I decide to publish an anthology, that will be my loss.

2010 Book of Mormon Story Contest Winners

Are you ready for the winners?

Readers’ Choice Published Author Category:
Song of Saphir by David J. West

Publisher’s Choice Published Author Category:
Once a Gadianton… by Brenda Anderson

Readers’ Choice Unpublished Author Category:
The Bright Sword Covenant by Krista Lynne Jensen

Publisher’s Choice Unpublished Author Category:
Like Rachel by Susan Auten

Over the next few weeks, I’ll do in-depth critiques on every story and send them to the authors. I’ll also post shorter critique and commentary on the story posts. Be patient. These are long stories and it will take me some time to get through all of them.

As for the book. . .I need to finish the critiques first to see if we have enough stories to make a book. My guess is we probably will, but some of the stories will need a bit of re-writing first. I’ll post the list of stories that made the cut when I have it ready.

Thanks to everyone who submitted stories—and to all those who took the time to read, comment and vote for them.

Now, for the poll in the sidebar (scroll down to see it)—what other types of story contests do you want to do? Go vote.

We’ll definitely do another Christmas contest in a few months, so get started on a story. Word length: 2,000—3,000.

P.S. If you’re an author of a story and you want to take credit for it, you can either post your ID in the comments or send me an email and I’ll put your byline at the top of your story and link it to your blog/website.

I will not post your identity unless you tell me to do so or you divulge it in a comment.

Book of Mormon Story Voting Instructions

Please read the voting instructions carefully as they are a bit tricky this time.

Voting for LDSP’s 2010 Book of Mormon YA Story Contest starts NOW!

VOTE between Monday, February 22 and midnight on Saturday, February 27.

Voting Info:

  1. There will be four winners:
    Readers Choice (Published authors)
    Readers Choice (Unpublished authors)
    Publisher’s Choice (Published authors)
    Publisher’s Choice (Unpublished authors).

  2. Publisher’s Choice winners will be judged on a variety of criteria, according to a point system. But it basically boils down to quality of writing, uniqueness of story and what I think will best sell the book.
  3. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it a popularity contest.
  4. You MAY vote for your own story. (In fact, you should. I am constantly amazed by the number of stories that receive no votes. What’s wrong with you people?)
  5. You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished.
    Click HERE to read all stories by Published Authors. Vote for two.
    Click HERE to read all stories by Unpublished Authors. Vote for two.

    NOTE: There are 10 stories in the Unpublished Author category and 16 stories in the Published Author category. Due to the limitations of Blogger, they do not all show up on one page. After you’ve read the first batch, click the OLDER POSTS link at the bottom right below the last story to go to the next page of stories.

    I could not find a poll that would allow more than 10 options AND let you vote twice. So the Published Author category, with 16 stories, is broken into two BLUE poll boxes. Although it will allow you to vote twice in each of the poll boxes, please ONLY VOTE FOR TWO STORIES between the two poll boxes.

    This means, you might vote for one story in each box OR two stories in one of the boxes and no stories in the other box. (Clear as mud?)

    The Unpbulished Author stories are in the GREEN poll box. You may vote for two of those.

  7. You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING happens in the VIZU polls.

  8. AUTHORS: Please tell your friends that you’ve submitted a story and to come read and vote, but DO NOT tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity.
  9. I’ll announce the winners on Monday, March 1st.

It’s going to take a lot of time for me to go through these stories, write feedback, and pick winners. Therefore, the regular LDSP blog posts are suspended this week.

[P.S. Comments on the stories will also enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]

26: The Lamanite’s Prisoner

Zuri stood atop a hill. Her hair was blown back slightly in the wind. Her faithful dog Mika stood by her side and panted in the brightly shining sun. She looked down upon an army of men. To anybody else she looked like a loyal Nephite. To Zuri this was a world changing moment. She felt like her whole life was being crushed.

Her brother was going and so was her father. They were going to war against the Lamanites. Her father Teancum went as a captain and her brother Alec went as your common soldier. Zuri felt her emotions overwhelming her and rushed off into the forest to avoid anybody seeing her crying.

She walked slowly along a dirt trail, thinking about the past days. She heard somebody’s footsteps behind her and stepped off the trail figuring her aunt (who she was staying with)had sent somebody to find her.. She didn’t want to be found. Zuri looked out onto the path to see who had been the cause of the footsteps and saw Mika. She laughed feeling a little foolish and stepped out of the trees.

Suddenly Mika growled in her direction and she jumped back, into the arms of a grown man. He clamped his hand over her mouth to hold back her screams. She squirmed around and found herself looking into the eyes of a Lamanite. His dark skin was painted and he looked quite angry.

Mika jumped on him and knocked him over. Suddenly more Lamanites came spilling out of the forest and one grabbed her while a lot of them threw rocks at Mika. Zuri knew Mika could have won any of them in one on one combat but there were so many of them and Mika soon lay whimpering at the side of the road.

Zuri slumped against whoever it was that had captured her. Her dog was dead and her brother and father were both at war. Her mom had been captured by the Lamanites a long time ago.

The Lamanite picked her up and put her into a supply wagon. Zuri sat slumped against the side with her eyes closed.

A long while later The wagon came to a stop and the lamanite made camp. They placed several guards around Zuri and she closed her eyes and ignored anything the Lamanites said. She heard howling in the dark and her heart ached for Mika. Her Lamanite guards were slumped over and Mika guessed they were asleep.

She stood up and went over to one. She pulled his sword out of its sheath and was pulled down by its weight. She walked through the camp towards what she guessed was north. She heard whimpering and saw a dog tugging against its chain. She set the sword down and walked towards the dog whispering “’s okay boy, eeeeeeasy. “She unhooked the collar and he took off like lightning.

Zuri picked up the sword and walked away. She told herself that she didn’t need another dog. She would always remain loyal to Mika. The other part of her mind told her she could be loyal to two dogs.

A few hours later Zuri was too tired to keep walking. She sat down against a tree that was just a few steps off the path and told herself she would just rest for a minute. Soon she was asleep.

The next morning she woke up to the sound of a dog whimpering beside her. She figured it was Mika and reached out to pet her. The dog let out a short bark and she jerked back. Suddenly she remembered that Mika was dead.

There were fruits growing in the tall trees that surrounded her. She climbed one and picked a few. When she climbed back down the dog was still sitting there. It was a skinny dark brown dog and it gave her a pleading look. She tossed it one of the fruits and it ate it quickly. She tossed it another and started walking.

She thought about what she might call the dog. Maybe Dawn she thought. But then she criticized herself for starting to like another dog.

She looked around. The dog had abandoned her.

When the sun was at its highest point in the sky the dog was back with its head tilted and giving her a puppy dog look. She climbed a tree and picked several more fruits. When she climbed down she held one out in her hand.

Without thinking she said “here Dawn, her girl” and the dog walked slowly to her. While Dawn ate the fruits out of her hand she petted its head gently.

The dogs stayed with Zuri, just a few paces away for the rest of the day. Zuri’s conscience told her she should stay loyal to her original dog but she couldn’t get herself to tell Dawn to leave.

She was also starting to wish that she had taken the sheath of the sword she was carrying around; it was starting to feel really heavy.

Suddenly she could hear clanking of swords on other swords. She hurried to the top of a hill then rushed down into the battle. She swung the heavy sword around awkwardly on managing to knock the wind out of a few men. She caused very little real damage.

Then somebody hit her with the flat side of their sword and she was knocked out. She awoke a few hours later. Dawn was sitting beside her growling at anybody who approached. A man stood a few paces away. “The army is no place for a girl” he said.

“My dog was killed and I was kidnapped by the Lamanites, then I escaped and I found you guys fighting this battle and so I rushed in” Zuri said.

“Your dog looks fine to me”

“I meant my other dog” Zuri said impatiently. “Do you know Teancum?”

The man said “well I did, but then I left the nephrite army and joined the Lamanites.”

“How could you?”Zuri said, but then the man hit dawn with the back of his sword and pulled Zuri away kicking and screaming.

“Captain Teancum will be easy to work with once he hears that we’ve got his little girl for ransom” The man said. Zuri kicked harder, but it was of no use.

Once they got to the Lamanite camp Zuri was tied up and left with several guards. She thought one of the younger ones was pretty cute, but then she realized the guy she was calling cute would kill her without a second thought and she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see him.

This caused her to think of the two dogs she had lost in the last 36 hours. She resolved not to have any more dogs since she was obviously such terrible luck. Her pain made her cry so hard she fell asleep.

Later that night she heard men shouting and heard someone say that the Lamanite leader Amoron was dead. Zuri wondered what had happened, but nobody would tell her. The next day the Lamanites rushed off to battle leaving very few guards. The guards that were left fell asleep because of how little sleep they had gotten the night before.

Zuri cut herself free with a knife she pulled out of a Lamanite’s belt and ran in the direction of the battle ground she had been at the day before. On her way there she found Dawn sniffing along in the direction of the Lamanite camps. “You are a loyal dog after all” she said then she kissed the top of Dawn’s head.

Soon she could hear the clanking of swords again and went in that direction. She found a Javelin lying on the ground and she picked it up. It was almost as tall as she was, and a very awkward thing to carry.

She asked the first Nephite she saw about the location of Captain Teancum and he said “Haven’t you heard little girl, he died last night when he went to kill Amoron”. Zuri’s anger consumed her and she ran into the center of the battle.

Zuri fought the Lamanites in a fierce anger. She hated this sort of thing. She decided to never get near a battle again. At the end of the battle there were two dogs that rushed up to her side. At first she thought that Dawn had a friend, but then she realized the second dog was Mika.

Zuri didn’t know whether to be happy because Mika was back or sad because Her Dad was dead. In her aching heart she decided to be both.

The next day she began the walked back to the Nephite territory. She wondered where Alec was. Every day she hoped she would see him.

Several weeks later she reached the Nephite city of Moroni. The few weeks marching with the army she had built up in her mind what would happen when she found Alec. Then she noticed him amid all the celebrating Nephites. He was taller than he had been and his hair was lighter. She ran to him with Mika and Dawn close behind her and said “Alec!”

He looked down at her as if he didn’t recognize her and the he said “who are you?”

“I’m Zuri, your sister” she said in a slightly surprised voice.

“My sister was kidnapped by Lamanites” Alec said.

“But I’m standing right here “Zuri said.

“My little sister wasn’t so annoying; just go away “Alec said.

Zuri walked away. She would go to her aunt’s house and when he went home he’s find out.

“What’s wrong girl” A cute boy with tan skin said.

“Oh, nothing” Zuri said not wanting to tell a stranger her troubles.

She looked up at the boy and realized he was obviously of Lamanite heritage because his skin was much darker than tan. “Well my dad’s dead and my brother doesn’t think I’m alive” Zuri mumbled.

“That ought to be hard” The boy said.

Zuri glanced up shocked. The boy’s ears were as good as an owl’s. Then he offered out his hand. Zuri took it without thinking. Then he pulled her over to a beautiful brown horse. He jumped on and pulled her up. Then he took her on a wild ride through the Meadows. Mika and Dawn followed close behind.

25: Song of Saphir

by David J. West

Saphir moved with grace and stealth, her closest sisters. It wouldn’t do to be recognized even at this late hour. Nothing but her green eyes and wisps of red hair were readily visible. Her thin frame was wrapped in multi-colored veils that blended with the darkness like the children of shadows.

No respectable woman would stroll the finer avenues of Zarahemla after dark, let alone the river-quarter. Here villains and rogues congregated in taverns, carnivals and drug-dens, all of the filth eventually sliding into the River Sidon with a sickening gasp.

Saphir had no such qualms, it was business. Carrier pigeons brought word of a mandatory meeting with Boaz, “the Profit”, dealer of all things both legal and permanently borrowed. She crept through the door of the usual place, a tavern so old and forgotten only the Three Disciples might remember the name, and they hadn’t been seen themselves in quite some time.

The Profit, sat at his usual table, gulping soup. His bodyguards sat at the table across the aisle. Boaz, a heavy-set man, decorated his long black-beard with gold and turquoise beads woven into braids. His crafty eyes narrowed and a smile spread as Saphir approached.

“Saphir, whose name means beautiful, has a heart, ugly and cold as Desolation in winter,” said Boaz. “It’s a wonder your very touch doesn’t freeze me to the bone.”

“You think I would touch you? The only thing more repulsive is your stench.”

“But here we are,” he said, grinning. “I’ve a job for you, Queen of Thieves.”

The title flattered more than she wished to admit.

“I have it on good account, that a holy relic is to be removed from the Tower of Sherrizah in one week. They’re going to open that celestial vault for the first time in decades, remove its few treasures. This is the last opportunity to steal it before it’s lost, buried in the earth, forgotten,” said Boaz.

“Why do you care? Profit, you’re no believer.”

“Of course I’m not, couldn’t fence the relic if I wanted too, but the Grand Master, wants them.”

“He wants them?” she asked. “Why not use his people?”

Boaz shrugged, “Gadiantons have been lying low these last few weeks. Most are gone from the city.”

“As are the Chief Judges most prized guardsmen,” she added.

“Gadiantons asked for you specifically.”

She bit her lip beneath the veil. Most clients were wealthy merchants and nobles. They would have her steal various treasures to appear more prestigious than each other. Sometimes it was information and on occasion something more. Gadiantons never employed her, too insulted that she would not join them. But why pay a tithe to the order when she could keep it all for herself? She had gotten along just fine without their help or employment, why accept it now? It could only come with hidden shackles attached.

“No, I won’t work for Gadiantons. They want to entice me to join their order with a big score, don’t they?”

Boaz’s smile faded like sunset, slow then dark. “Saphir, enough games. You’ve gone your own way for years, you have a reputation. Things are changing, you can’t avoid them. They want you to do the job and join their ranks or else.”

“Or else what?”

“They know who your family is. Your brothers and sisters, Helaman, Mariah, Gideon and little Ari, they told me. If you don’t do this, Gadianton assassins will pay your family a visit. I always said you can’t keep secrets forever.”

“What do they want?”

“Go to the Tower, retrieve the Interpreter, bring it back. You’ll be paid and ordained into the order. It’s very simple, why fight it? You know which way the wind is blowing.”

“Anything else?”

“Yea, women aren’t meant to be alone. Think on it,” he said, with a yellowed grin as he groped for her.

With a feline’s grace and speed, Saphir reached across the table taking hold of the Profit’s bejeweled beard with her left hand. Her right hand arced a blade grasped tight and true.

Boaz closed his eyes tight.

Saphir’s knife took the beard from his chin. She dropped the golden braids in his soup and turned to leave. One of the bodyguards got up but Saphir forced him down with a violent wrist-lock. The other bodyguard thought better of interfering.

“If anything happens to my family.”

“You’ll do nothing,” Boaz chuckled to hide his fear. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you, but Gadiantons already have them. Do the job if you want to see them again.”

Eyes blazing a silent fury, Saphir slid out the backdoor, as Boaz lamented for a barber.


Returning to her home, silence reigned where she should have been greeted with multiple snores. None should have known this was her families home. Signs of struggle littered the floor. They had trusted her to care for them and now their young lives hung in critical balance. Saphir pounded against unfeeling walls before collapsing in tears.
She would do whatever it took for the children’s return. Writing a brief encoded message, she attached the note to a carrier pigeon and released the bird. Packing her special tools and rations for two weeks, she wondered if her dead parents could ever have imagined this dire predicament for their children.

Saphir changed into simple traveling clothes: a white silk blouse and flared black breeches, common enough, if she were a man. She boarded a river-merchant’s ship to take her down the Sidon to the forks, where the Bountiful River feeds the Sidon.

On the journey Saphir calculated she would lose three to four days if luck prevailed, and as much as six days if the rowers were lax. Such ships had a full compliment of men to row upstream when the sails couldn’t do the job. Most men who did such back-breaking labor were not slaves but debtors and released criminals who could find little else for work.

Saphir recalled that if she lacked useful talents she could have belonged to a debtors camp herself. If she failed on this and the Gadiantons let her siblings live, they would certainly end in the orphanage and then debtor camps. There was no justice under the rule of Judges, except perhaps from the fanatical Chief Judge. But she could never expect mercy from the leader of that antiquated church. Thinking of her family held by Gadiantons, Saphir steeled herself not to cry until sure that no one could see.

“What’s this? A doe-eyed girl with tears, such a beauty shouldn’t be weeping,” said a tall dark-haired man with a trim goatee. He wore a fine red cloak and an even finer sword on his belt. “She should be smiling, it’s a fine day.” He smiled but his teeth, white and predatory, reminded her more of a wolf than man.

“Be off, I’ve no time for false swordsmen.”

“But we have only just met on this most glorious day.”

“Or weak poet’s.”

“I’ll tell you one truth or two, dear lady. I am no false swordsman. I know why you are journeying to Sherrizah,” he said with eyes blazing some hidden emotion she couldn’t read.

“Do tell before I call your bluff, you scarlet-coated Nimrod.”

“You cut me to the quick. If only my sword had your tongue’s sharpness. But in truth I am a mighty hunter, sent to keep an eye on you,” he said showing those dazzling teeth.

“Are you to help, hinder or merely report on me…Errand-boy?”

He stifled a laugh. “My name is Mithradates of Antionum. I am a proud son of Zoram. I was to watch and report upon your progress, but I’ve had a change of heart.”

“I thought Gadiantons sacrificed their hearts to Cain on the full moon. Even I won’t hazard a guess at what Zoramites sacrifice.”

His smile dimmed. “I saw the children and knew I could not be a party to that. They look like you, long red curls and bright green eyes. I couldn’t hurt them. I swore to help you, for their sake.”

“What of your bloody oaths? Once a Gadianton always a Gadianton, so they say.”

“Times are changing,” said Mithradates.

“For the worse,” laughed Saphir.

“The Chief Judge vowed to break the Gadiantons into a thousand pieces.”

“You have to catch them first.”

“He will, he is wise, and I’m wise enough to change.”

Her gaze pierced him. “You would risk the blood oath for children you’ve never met and a beautiful thief? You’re a liar, what do you say to that?”

“Trust me.”

“Trust a stranger I just met? No thanks. I was promised if I completed the theft and gave it to ‘the Profit ’, I’d be inducted into the Gadiantons,” said Saphir.

“Promises and oaths mean nothing but to another Gadianton. They mean to eliminate an embarrassment, the Queen of Thieves, the most successful thief in all of Zarahemla and beyond.”

Saphir laughed, this time with actual humor rather than spite. “Queen of Thieves, paid my vanity more than it ever did in gold limnah’s. I’m not half so wealthy as you might think. I give most all my spoils to the poor of Zarahemla. Those that the rich and haughty trod upon. I rule no one and no one rules me.”

“That’s why you must let me help you. Let us retrieve the Interpreter, get the children back and then cut ourselves from the Gadianton chain. They plan on slaying you once you return,” said Mithradates. “You’re going to need someone on your side, and here I am.”

“You really want to help me? Give me space the rest of the voyage to Beersheba, we can talk on the ride to Sherrizah, agreed?”

Mithradates nodded and left her there on bow alone with her thoughts.


The ship made good time down the Sidon to the junction of rivers, but it was slow going up the east-forking Bountiful River. Nothing for Saphir to do but think, scheme and stroke the ship’s cat. It helped pass the time to mull things over with the scrawny beast. Mithradates was always nearby, but never spoke again.

None had ever succeeded in theft regarding the massive Tower of Sherrizah. There was not a taller building in the Nephite world. It dwarfed even the watchtowers of Bountiful, Manti and Zarahemla. Saphir wondered if she was meant to fail. What if Mithradates was right that the Gadiantons had planned this to eliminate competition? He was handsome and charming, but a darkness speared his soul. Wasn’t it fair to say one darkened hers as well? If only the cat would answer, she mused.

After five days, the ship anchored at the town of Beersheba. Saphir sauntered down the gangplank to complete her journey. It was early and Mithradates still slept. She decided to be rid of him rather than wait. Who needs a lazy man?

Browsing over the stables, Saphir purchased the swiftest horse she could find, a buckskin mare with strong legs. She paid more than she thought the animal was worth, because there was no time to haggle. Preparing to ride south, her friend, the ship’s cat announced herself. Scooping the scraggly black cat up to her waiting arms, the three rode away with all possible speed.

Numerous times Saphir allowed the horse to rest while she and the cat walked. Knowing she could not reach the city of Sherrizah until well after dark, Saphir found a campsite a not far from the road. In a copse of trees she rolled out a blanket and ate a light meal sharing with the cat.

“Tomorrow we’ll be in Sherrizah and I’ll know if my plan will work. If it doesn’t then,” she trailed off stroking the cat.

She fell asleep beneath bleak stars, worrying if her siblings were scared and when she could see them again. Nightmares slithered up beside, feeding off her warmth and fear. In the night she thought she heard the cat hiss once and go silent, but sleep demanded obedience and she submitted.

As the dawn broke grey and dreary, she noticed an unfamiliar shape beneath her blankets. Pulling them back, a flickering black forked tongue and rattle left no doubt.

“That’s a big one,” said Mithradates, out of nowhere.

“When did you get here?” asked Saphir, never taking her eyes off the venomous serpent. Its tongue shot out continually testing the air.

“I just got here. I was watching you sleep. I was about to wake you. This is a good example of why you should have waited,” said Mithradates.

“I thought you could take a hint. I didn’t need your help.”

“So do you need help now?”

Saphir frowned, inching back ever so slightly. The snake coiled closer.

“It wants your warmth,” said Mithradates, drawing his sword. It was a fine silvery blade with a slight curve, an educated fighting-mans weapon. He stalked to Saphir’s right.

The slit-yellow eyes watched, tail rattling furious.

Saphir twitched and the snake faced her, positioning to strike.

Mithradates’ sword, cold lightning in his hand, separated the snake from its wedge-shaped head.

Leaping back, Saphir kicked the serpent’s body away. “Why did you follow me?”

“Is it so shameful of me? I like you,” he said, extending her a hand.

Ignoring the gesture, she stood and said, “You know nothing about me.”

“I know enough.”

She broke camp and he saddled her horse. “Where is my cat?”

Mithradates shrugged.

Calling for the cat brought no response. Once mounted, Saphir scanned the tall grass and woods beside the camp. A black shape lay lifeless nearby.

Jumping from her horse, Saphir cradled the still thing.

“Looks like the serpent got her,” said Mithradates. He pulled a dagger out and dug a trench. He tenderly took the cat from Saphir, placed it in the grave and covered it over with earth. “I’m sorry. Did it have a name?”

“No,” she whispered. They mounted their horses. “Thank you,” she said, before steeling herself yet again.


“Amazing is it not? Makes the Rameumptom ruins look like a child’s footstool in comparison. And I am a proud Zoramite saying this.”

“I didn’t think saying you were humble as a Zoramite would carry any weight,” laughed Saphir.

They stood on the rim of a great valley, gazing up at the grey stone colossus. The towers shadow forever fell and circled a part of the city of Sherrizah, Saphir imagined the town’s people kept time by the momentous shade.

“Construction began by Sherrizah two hundred years from the sign in the heavens. It took forty years to finish. Old Sherrizah said it would be the greatest temple to the Lord ever. It’s almost too bad the Three Disciples denounced it as a vain abomination to the Lord,” said Mithradates. “But some people just cannot appreciate great art.”

“I know they prophesied it would fall,” said Saphir.

“Nay, good lady, look at it. Resting on the base of a firm hill, its foundation is strong and sure. The tower is a hundred paces square at the bottom and almost twice that in height to the pinnacle, a holy of holies unrealized.”

“Just because Sherrizah built a grand tower doesn’t mean everyone should put their treasures in it,” scoffed Saphir.

“Well, some did. An Interpreter belonging to some old soothsayer or other, treasures of gold and silver, even some records. But it has remained sealed since the builder’s death.”

“It is a monument to nothing,” snapped Saphir. “Everyone knows all the real treasures are hidden elsewhere. All I want is the Interpreter, trade it to ‘the Profit’ for my siblings’ safe return and I’m done.”

Mithradates glanced at her curious. “What about the Gadiantons? They will not let things go.”

“I’ll not let things go either, but first I have to see to their safety,” snapped Saphir. “Let’s ride. I’ve a friend who’ll grant us more information to get inside. If you still want to help me.”

Mithradates smiled. “Of course I do, my lady.”


The Snorting Curelom was not the finest of establishments; torn leather curtains drooped at the windows and an irritating sickly-sweet smell asphyxiated the tavern air. Greasy men played with even grimier cards at all but a few tables as serving girls brought flagons of wine. Pipe-smoke filled the air, nauseating Mithradates and Saphir.

“Why must we wait in this sty?” muttered Mithradates. “This stench may adhere to me permanently.”

“I told my friend I’d be in the seediest tavern, there’s no doubt this is it.” She smiled at his discomfort. “Hasn’t someone of your vocation been in many taverns like this before?”

“Not if I could help it,” said the swordsman. “Look at this fop,” he gestured at a short bug-eyed man walking through the door wearing a ridiculously bright green shirt. “He looks like the deranged offspring of a frog and a Lemuelite.” Surprise struck Mithradates when the man waved to him and came closer.

“That is my friend, Paanchi,” said Saphir. “Be kind to him.”

“Saphir,” greeted Paanchi, “Sorry I’m late. Horses don’t like me you know.” He gave Saphir a hug and eyeballed Mithradates with obvious sourness. “Since when do you need a flamboyant swordsman by your side?”

Saphir frowned. “Paanchi, be nice.”

“Flamboyant? Have you seen your shirt?” shot Mithradates. “And you asked me to be kind to the frogman.”

“Enough, we needn’t draw attention, let’s go outside,” said Saphir.

Paanchi looked down his nose at Mithradates and followed Saphir outside, strutting like a proud hen. They went to the stable to be alone.

As Paanchi pulled scrolls from his saddle bags, Mithradates asked Saphir, “What is his problem?”

“He doesn’t have a problem, he just gets picked on a lot,” she said, as Paanchi opened a scroll.

“This is everything I was able to find on the tower’s plans. I think your usual method will work best, though this is much taller,” he said with genuine concern.

“What is at the top for entry?” asked Saphir.

“The roof is wood, shingled with copper. It’s green with age and could be very slick. I’ll bet you could pull them up smashing your way in,” suggested Paanchi.

“I don’t smash my way into anything.”

“There is a window. I’m sure it’s shuttered and barred, but I know you could get in that way. The top is where the Interpreter should be kept along with any other things of interest,” said Paanchi, pointing at the opened scrolls dust laden drawings.

“Nothing else matters now except the Interpreter and getting the children back. I won’t burden myself with anything else,” said Saphir.

“What is the usual method?” asked Mithradates.

“Ugh, why do you even have this bearded war-monger with you?”

“Paanchi, that’s enough. My business is my own,” snapped Saphir. “He wants to help.” She took the scroll from Paanchi and stared at the ancient inked lines.

Frowning, Mithradates asked, “War-monger? What are you speaking of toadling?”

“You carry a sword,” said Paanchi, shaking his head as if that answered everything.


“So, you are part of the problem. As long as people in this world make and carry swords there will never be peace,” said Paanchi.

Mithradates stifled a chuckle.

“Oh ha-ha, you think I’m funny? He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

“You forget peace-frog, those who don’t live by the sword can die by them too.”

“Some of us prefer to use our minds. We are above such pettiness.”

“She,” Mithradates pointed at Saphir, “carries a pretty big knife, or didn’t you notice?”

“Knives can be used in kitchens. There is only one thing a sword is good for is maiming and hurting other human beings. I don’t hurt people,” said Paanchi.

“You’re trying to hurt my feelings, peace-frog,” laughed Mithradates.

Saphir had been intently studying the drawing of the tower and realized their argument.
“No more either of you!”

“You know I am here to help you, what role does peace-frog play?”

“He is a resident scribe at the library of Hearthom-Hem in Bountiful, and has assisted my acquisitions for many years. Few know more of ancient relics and artifacts than Paanchi, so please, if you can’t be kind, be silent,” said Saphir.

The two men, polar opposites in almost every way conceivable relented and just gave each other frowns the rest of the evening.


Night unfolded with deafening silence and even the boisterous patrons of the Snorting Curelom went quiet by midnight, drowning in their ale or tears. Three shadows traced from the stables toward tower hill. They crept past dozing city watchmen and raccoons stealing garbage. Somewhere a lonely dog howled a mournful tone of doom.

Avoiding moonlit streets, the three came to the backside of the tower’s log palisade wall. The tower didn’t need a palisade wall to defend it but the practice had been traditional since at least the days of Captain Moroni. The only entrance had a pair of guards leaning upon their spears.

“It will be no problem to use them up,” whispered Mithradates.

“See how he is? Sword-wielders, all they do is lust for blood,” said Paanchi.

“I suppose peace-frog, you would rather I say I cannot handle them.”


“Silence,” intoned Saphir. She didn’t like that Mithradates used the slang of assassins but it was just talk.

“Besides, I never said kill. I could just cripple them.”

“Why must it involve pain?”

“Silence,” ordered Saphir. “We stick to the plan. Mithradates and I will take them out, you will keep watch, Paanchi.” Throwing back her cloak, Saphir handed Paanchi her bag of equipment and took a wine bottle and proceeded to act intoxicated and stumble toward the pair of guards. Paanchi stayed where he was, while Mithradates, still enveloped in night, followed closely behind. It made her feel protected knowing he was there.

“Dear friends,” Saphir slurred, “am I glad to see you. Is this where Judge Zebulon lives?” She smiled waving her bottle slightly. Despite her unkempt appearance, her beauty was not lost on the two sleepy guardsmen.

“Afraid not doll, this here is the tower. You best be getting along,” said the first.

The second was still watching her with appreciation.

“Alright have a little bit of a drink with me first, huh?”

“No thank you, mum,” said the first again, “Its against orders, we’re on duty.”

“Ten years we’ve had this post and in ten years how many times has anything happened?” snarled the second. “I’ll tell you never. We’ve a fool’s job we do. Bring it here lass. I’ll have a drink with you.”

She handed him the wine skin which he greedily gulped. The first guardsman almost protested but could see it was too late.

Smiling at Saphira the guard took another pull on the skin and collapsed in a heap. Before the other could believe his own surprise, Mithradates leapt from the darkness like a panther, pummeling the guard into brutal submission.

Sizing up each of them, Mithradates took the one he struck and stripped him of his cloak and helm. He then tied and gagged the man and moved him around the other side of the wall. He propped the drugged guard against the gate so he appeared to be sleeping.
Saphir was grateful for his willingness and even his jealousy of Paanchi’s friendship. It was new to have a man who looked out for you.

Paanchi arrived putting the cloak and helm on. Not an imposing guardsman by anyone’s standards but in the dark he would at least seem conscious. He placed a blue lens in front of a slot on his lamp so he could signal Saphir if need be.

Saphir and Mithradates raced up the steps. The dark tower reached into the night above them making all seem insignificant before it. A great oaken door was wrapped with bands of iron, rusting at the edges. The lock mocked them, its size was stunning.

“At least we can tell none has opened it.”

“It’s as I hoped,” said Saphir, digging into her pack and producing curious iron implements.

“So that is your secret,” mused Mithradates. “Climbing gear beyond anything I have ever seen.”

“They are my own special design, nothing else is even close.”

Two feet pieces went over her buckskin boots. These had thin forks of iron protruding from the toe kicks. Upon her hands she had gauntlets with claw-like appendages that were still narrow enough to fit into the tiny crevices in the stone tower.

“You have done this many times?”

“Yes, but never anything this tall. It will take all my strength to reach the top.”

“You could let me try.”

“No, my family, my duty. I’ll come down the stairs and out when I’m done.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Saphir didn’t know if she was caught up in the excitement of the greatest thievery ever yet attempted or if she was truly feeling something for him but she turned and kissed him before attacking the wall.

Taken aback he responded in surprise.

All the way up the staggering wall, she pondered why she had done such a thing. Left foot in crevice and why had she done that? Right hand up and pull and what a fool she was echoed again and again.

Twice on the ascent she had to stop and rest, clinging to the cool stone for a few moments. That no one had been where she was since it was constructed, was a sobering thought. Looking down she could faintly see Mithradates watching her. Paanchi was almost invisible beside the lamplight.

In a rhythm she forged ahead, surprising herself when she struck her head on the eve of the overhanging roofline. Having to go sideways about the tower she came to the shuttered window. The green paint was sun-faded rendering it almost unrecognizable.

This was the hardest spot for her to have purchase on the tower and pushing on the shutter almost made her lose balance with the crevices, but then a snap inside sent the shutters flying inward.

Clambering inside, she could see the bar had dry-rotted and snapped with her pressure.
Taking off her climbing gear she adjusted to the gloom and was amazed. The chamber was filled with everything from stacks of senines and limnahs, to chests overflowing from Sherrizah’s investors. More wealth sat forgotten here than she had ever seen before.

Lighting a wall sconce, Saphir gazed over the chamber looking for the Interpreter. Against the far wall a box looked out of place among the treasures. A power emanated from within. Opening the lid, a clear egg-shaped stone lay upon a purple cloth.

Holding the stone up she could see the brass coins hidden amongst the gold and silver, the dross covered by a veneer of precious metal. Near everything here was a counterfeit or fake, even the tower itself was not so sturdy as it appeared. The weakness in the foundation was readily apparent.

She wondered if the stone could show her truth. Saphir felt a shock coursing through her. She remembered her first bits of thievery in the Zarahemla market, the first apple she took, first purse of gold she filched, first kiss she stole. All came in a wave consuming her. She then remembered her parent’s love, their hope expressed when she was young. What they taught her mattered again.

Saphir went down the steps in a daze, until faced with the door. Turning the massive ingenious lock took effort and it spun about as she pushed it asunder. Curious, things could be locked in?

Swinging the door open, she faced Mithradates.

Saphir held the stone up to look and saw the darkness wafting from him like smoke.

“You did it. You took my family away, you even killed my cat,” she gasped.

His face, once a mask of stone, curled into a sinister smile. “That is a useful tool. I was right to plan this.”

“If you desire it, give me back my family.”

“I can’t. I sold them into slavery. They’re down the Sidon by now to Tarshish or Gad.” He laughed and drew his sword. “Give me the Interpreter.”

“No. I need it to find them.”

“Fool girl, give it or die.”

“You mean to do that anyway.”

His lips curled. “Yes.”

They stood facing one another in impasse.

Then a creak gave away Paanchi’s attack. He tackled Mithradates from behind, knocking him forward but by not out of the fight. The bigger man turned, cutting Paanchi across the ribs. Wheeling back to Saphir, he blocked her thrown knife with nary a moment to lose.

“You can’t beat me,” he said kicking Paanchi, while staring daggers at Saphir.

“Why,” she whispered.

“I wanted to see what you could do, so many tales sing of your cleverness and glorify you. I didn’t believe them.”

“Do you now?”

“Ha, no. Queen of Thieves, my Cumom.”

“Alright, you can have the stone,” she said.

“No,” muttered Paanchi.

Mithradates cocked an eyebrow at her surrender. “Keep your hands where I can see them. No hidden daggers or tricks.”

“You see my hands.”

He stepped closer and reached. She flung the stone in his face and took his hand in a wrist lock, wrenching him inside the tower while still dazed. Slamming the mammoth door shut, she breathed and waited. The lock was flipped and Mithradates was sealed inside.

Muffled poundings availed nothing and he went silent.

Saphir picked up the Interpreter then helped Paanchi up. “You alright?”

“I think so, it’s not deep.”

Saphir studied the stone then looked to Paanchi, her eyes a new resolve. “Good. Let’s wake the town to the prisoner inside and be away. The stone says, the children are in Tarshish. We should find them in a week and heaven help their jailers,” said Saphir, brandishing Mithradates sword.

Paanchi nodded. “Where are your climbing shoes?”

24: Unexpected Warriors

by Karlene Browning

“Liamnihah, return home now!” Liam’s father looked like a tiny figure in the distance, but his voice carried through the air all the way from their home to the pond.

“Liam, was that your father bellowing for you?” asked Sheresh, leaning over to bump Yoran in the side.

Liam shrugged at his two best friends. Lately, his father was always yelling for him. Liam roused himself from the tall summer grass where he and his friends were lounging, watching Zera and the other girls doing laundry in the pond. The three friends were discussing the rumors that were flying about the war with the Lamanites, having already filled their water skins from the spring that fed into the pond. Watching the girls and talking about war had become part of their morning routine since the Lamanites had stolen their sheep and forced them to pasture what was left of their herds nearer to their homes.

Squatting, Liam picked up the leather strap of his water yoke and draped it over his left shoulder. Then he picked up the strap of the other yoke and draped it over his right shoulder. He seldom made it back to the farm with all four water skins full of water, but he generally made it with enough that he did not have to make a second trip. Liam hated making a second trip. It was such a waste of time.

Still squatting, Liam put one foot behind the other, feeling it sink into the soft dirt beneath the damp grass. Legs shaking like a newborn lamb, he pushed himself up, balancing the overly full buckets on either side of his body.

“Yeh, Liam,” said Yoran, a sneer on his face. “Your father sounds very angry. What did you do this time? Leave the sheep pen open again?”

Liam ignored Yoran. Friend or no, Yoran had a sharp tongue. It did no good to argue with him. One more backward step, careful not to overbalance. Then Liam turned to the right, facing the one gap in the rock wall ringing the pond that was wide enough for him to get his four buckets through. Easy. Except for the lock of hair that fell down into his eyes. Late for his chores, Liam had run out of the house, grabbed up the water yokes and tore down to the pond. He was halfway there before he realized he had forgotten to push his hair back in a headband. Typical. He was always forgetting. And always paying for it, usually by tripping over a clump of grass he did not notice through the strings of hair in his face.

“Here, sheepy, sheepy. Liam wants his sheepy back,” Yoran teased, his voice an octave higher. Again, Liam ignored him, stepping toward the gap in the rock wall with care.

Liam had been the last to get to the pond this morning. As usual. Sheresh and Yoran had already made one trip to the pond before he arrived. Liam was even later than usual today because he had slept in. He had worked late into the night on a stool for his mother. It was his own design, with a small, raised back for his mother to lean against while she did her embroidery work, and a flat bar connecting two of the legs in front, where she could rest her feet. The intricately carved back was taking some time but he wanted to get it perfect. Not only would it be a great surprise for his mother but it would show his father that he was ready for the apprenticeship. He would not be a sheep boy forever.

“Let it go, Yoran,” said Sheresh.

“Shut it, Sheresh. If you know what is good for you,” said Yoran, glaring at Sheresh. “It is Liam who let those stupid Lamanite thieves get our sheep.”

“Stars above, Yoran! What was he supposed to do? Fight all of them by himself? And where were you, anyway? You were supposed to be helping him, not sweet talking Zera over at the marketplace.” Sheresh reached out and gave Yoran a shove, causing some of the water in one of Yoran’s pails to slosh over the top.

“I said shut up before I punch you in the—”

“Never mind, Sheresh,” said Liam, stopping for a moment to look back at his friends. “Yoran is right. It was my fault. I will see you tomorrow.” Liam cared less about Yoran’s comments than he did about getting the four water skins safely back to the sheep pen.

# # #

The evening meal was Liam’s favorite—lamb stew so thick you could scoop it up with flattened corn cakes. Liam loved his mother’s corn cakes. She added a pinch of dried red pepper to give them a slight bite that tasted wondrous combined with the savory stew. He had eaten too much and now his stomach was groaning in pain. He had thought once to stay and laze in the house but his determination to finish the stool before harvest time pushed him out the door to the makeshift stall where his secret project waited.

Liam was struggling with the groove of a jasmine blossom. The wood grain in this one spot on the backrest was being defiant. There must have been a gnarl hidden just below the surface of the capirona wood. A groove had split and now he was trying to turn it into a curl, to make it look like an intentional part of the design. Joseph, the woodworker he hoped to apprentice with, had shown him this trick a few weeks ago but Liam had not yet got the hang of it.

Liam stood slowly, shaking the tightness from his legs and rubbing his lower back. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and wiped the sweat from his brow as he exLiamed his night’s work. Not bad. He had fixed the groove and added three more jasmine blooms to the cluster. His scrutiny was interrupted by a cough behind him. Liam turned to see his father leaning against a corner pole of the stall, his muscled frame nearly filling the entire opening, the edge of the thatched roof brushing the top of his head. Had his father been watching him as he carved? He never came to watch Liam work the wood. He said all that fancy work was a waste of time and good wood. What was he doing out here tonight?

More importantly, how long had he been there? Had he heard Liam say that word that was not really a swearing, but that his father frowned upon? Probably not. His father was not reprimanding him. But then, he had heard his father say that word just this morning. Maybe he was being unusually forgiving tonight.

Liam’s father interrupted the moment of awkward silence with another cough.

“Liamnihah, sorry to interrupt your work.” Sorry? Liam could count on one finger the number of times his father had said he was sorry for something. Except to his mother. Father always apologized to Mother, even when he was not at fault.

Liam stood, placing his awl carefully on the seat of the stool. Something had to be wrong if his father was acting this much out of character. “What is it? Is Mama hurt? Baby Anna?”

“No, your mother and sister are fine. We need to go to the marketplace.”
“Now? This late in the day? All the stalls will be closed.”

“Not to barter. For a meeting. A chasqui came with a summons—all men and boys above twelve years are to meet at the council hall in the temple yard.”

The rumors were right, then. The time had come. As Liam and his father made the walk from their home at the far edge of town to the temple yard, he worried about what might happen. For most of his life, war had been threatening between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Lamanites were angry because the Nephites had given Liam’s people refuge.

“Liamnihah, stop that.” His father interrupted Liam’s thoughts. He had been unconsciously kicking a rock down the dirt road as they walked and the last kick had sent the rock flying into his father’s ankle. Oops.

The sun was setting on the road behind them, casting their long shadows into the soft glow ahead of them. Liam stepped forward a few paces so that his shadow’s head was just above that of his father’s. I am bigger than you, he had taunted when he was a child. Even though he no longer said the words, his father knew full well what Liam meant by the move. It was juvenile but he liked doing it anyway. Besides he was only thirteen. He could get away with it. For a few minutes.

Liam awaited his father’s usual comment that would put him back in his place. When it did not come, he dropped back by his father’s side. Father must be more unsettled about this meeting than he had realized.

To say the Lamanites were angry was like calling an enraged puma a hairless palace cat. Their anger had simmered for a while but now it was a rolling boil. The thought made Liam’s stomach churn. Lately, the Lamanites had stepped up their advances and attacks. They were burning crops, stealing sheep, attacking small communities, and butchering women and children right along with the men at arms. Captain Moroni and his armies were doing their best to meet the Lamanites, but they were stretched thin protecting Liam’s people—the People of Ammon. Rumor said it was only a matter of time before the entire countryside was embroiled in a war.

Liam knew his father was caught between two hands. On the one hand, he, like all the People of Ammon, had buried his weapons of war. He had covenanted with the Lord never to take up the sword again—not even to defend his own life. Liam was sure his father was at peace with that part of it. In fact, he had lectured Liam on the evils of war and physical violence all his days. But defending the lives of his wife and children? Defending the Nephites who had been so generous? That was the other hand.

Father chafed at having the Nephites fight his battles. His people were the reason for this war. His people were a weak link. His people required Nephite armies, Nephite lives, to protect them from the Lamanite advances. Although they supported the troops with food and supplies, the blood of the Nephites was being spilt for his people and he could not stop it. He could not help.

More than once, Liam had listened from the shadows while his father and the other men in the village had discussed their convictions, their desire to do something more. He had heard the arguments for breaking the covenant and taking up arms to fight alongside Captain Moroni, Helaman and the other Nephite warriors. None of them liked the idea but they did not know what else to do. Father had argued against it, but some of them, particularly Yaron’s father, had argued quite convincingly for it. This meeting would likely settle that argument, once and for all.

# # #

“You know what this is about?” asked Sheresh. The adult men were gathered in the limestone council hall at the edge of the temple yard where they held their community meetings. The young men waited in the outer garden, clustered in small groups, pretending not to be worried or concerned about the raised voices that occasionally drifted out through the open windows into the gathering darkness.

Liam took a deep breath. The scent of garden citrus and night-blooming jasmine that flooded his nose seemed to calm his troubled stomach. He nodded. “The war.”

“My dad says it is time to take a stand,” said Yaron. “We have got to fight or the Lamanites will kill most of us and make slaves of the rest.”

“But what about the covenant?” asked Liam.

“It is not for our sake that we would take up the sword. Not really,” replied Yaron. “It is for the Nephites, for the women and children. Moroni needs more men. We would not fight only to save ourselves.”
“Oh, right,” said Sheresh. “You just keep telling yourself that.”

Liam had to chuckle, despite the nervous cramping in his stomach. Yaron seemed just a bit too eager for war and Sheresh enjoyed ‘correcting’ him.

“Me? I think I will keep the covenant,” Sheresh continued. “Not that I personally made it. I was not born yet. But my father made the covenant and I will stand beside him. Or die beside him.”

“You are such a sheep-tailed know-it-all, Sheresh.” Yaron had to have the last word. “What about you, Liam? Sword up or sword down?”

“Uh, I…” Liam wondered. What would he do? Here in the relative calm of his community, it was easy to say that he would keep the covenant he had come to believe in with all his heart. But in the moment of challenge? If a Lamanite came into his home, threatened his mother and sister, what would he do? Would he have the strength to stand firm in the covenant and let them die? Or would he pick up his mother’s chopping knife and defend them with all his might? And if he fought for his own family, should he not also be willing to fight for the families of his friends?

“I do not know,” Liam said, his voice soft with emotion.

Sheresh and Yaron looked at him, for once their own honest emotion exposed in their faces. They were as conflicted and confused as he was.
The moment was interrupted as Yaron’s father called the young men inside the council hall. As the boys searched for their fathers, Liam guessed there were nearly five hundred men and boys in the room. He could smell the unpleasant tang of nervous sweat. There was a low hum of dissatisfied voices. Had the men not come to an agreement?
Liam and Sheresh joined a small group of men near the front of the room that included their fathers and Sheresh’s older brothers. A few moments later, Yaron and his father came to stand with them. Liam felt his shoulders tighten as he waited, knowing that what came next would change their lives forever. He could sense that same knowledge settle on his friends.

There was a stirring in the crowd, then a gasp from the young men as Helaman, a favored leader in Captain Moroni’s army, walked purposefully to the front of the gathering. He stepped up on a wooden box so that all could see and hear him. Liam stole a glance at Sheresh and Yaron, who both looked as astonished as he felt. None of them had heard a whisper that Helaman was coming here.

“My dear brothers in the Lord,” said Helaman, “for you are indeed my brothers now, although once, in the beginning, you were Lamanites. But by the power and the word of God, as taught to you by Ammon and his brethren, you were converted unto the Lord. You were brought down to the land of Zarahemla, and given a place amongst us, and have become our brethren.”

A chorus of amens went through the room. It was clear the older men felt an abiding brotherhood with this man and with the Nephites who had granted them asylum.

“I understand the sorrows of your hearts,” Helaman continued. “You have been protected by the Nephites for lo, these many years. And because of your oath to the Lord, your covenant to never more shed the blood of your fellowman, you have been kept from taking up arms against the Lamanites. I know that you are strong in your faith and that you would suffer yourselves to be slain rather than to take up arms.

“I also know that because of the many afflictions and tribulations and dangers that the Nephites bear for your sakes, you are moved with compassion. I know that you are desirous to defend your country, to fight for our lives, to once again take up weapons of war for our sakes.”
Once again a chorus of amens and yeses echoed through the room. Several men, Liam’s father included, brushed at their eyes. It was unnerving to see this strong, gruff man so undone by emotion, his breathing quick and shallow and his lip trembling. For the first time, Liam realized how heart-deep his father’s struggle with this issue truly was.

“But I say to you, do not. Do not break your oath, for I fear that by doing so, you shall lose your souls. Captain Moroni and I and many others have spent much time in fasting and prayer on this subject and we know the Lord will answer our prayers with a solution. But please, I beg of you from the depths of my heart, do not break your covenant.”

Helaman looked about the gathered men, as if he expected an answer to burst forth at any moment. The silence in the room was as heavy as wet alpaca fur. Liam was looking down, noticing the hardness of the limestone floor as it pressed against his sandaled feet, when he felt Sheresh stirring beside him. He turned to face his friend. Sheresh’s mouth formed an oval, his brows arched high above shining eyes. His cheeks were flushed, almost fevered with excitement.

“I did not,” said Sheresh, in a quiet voice that could only be heard by those standing close by.

“Did not what?” Liam asked, noticing as he said it that Yaron had a strange smile on his face, as if he were part of a secret joke that only he and Sheresh knew.

“I did not make the oath!” said Sheresh, this time speaking loud enough that his voice carried through the otherwise silent room.

All eyes turned their direction, shock mirrored on every face, including Helaman’s. Lines too deep for a man of his young age creased his brow. The corners of his mouth turned down and he shook his head from side to side. He closed his eyes for a moment, bowing his head as if in prayer. The hall remained silent—everyone too stunned to speak. Then Helaman groaned, lifting his head and opening his eyes.

“That is not the answer I expected,” said Helaman. He looked out over the group, studying them, perhaps looking for another answer, another solution. None was offered.

“Fathers, it is true. You have many good and strong sons who have been raised in the faith of the Lord. These sons were too young to enter into the covenant with you. Some of them had not yet been born.”

A low murmur began. This time there were no amens offered. Fathers and sons moved closer together as the meaning of Helaman’s words began to dawn on them. Helaman waited a beat for the whispering to die down.

Helaman’s voice rang out. “Let your sons, if they are willing, enter into a new covenant to take up arms, to fight for the liberty of our people, to protect their land and their families, even unto the laying down of their lives.”

Once again Helaman surveyed the group, searching out the faces of the younger men.

“I promise you,” he continued, his voice softer. “I promise you, this group of young men will become my own sons, my own army of warriors. I will teach them and train them, guide them into battle, succor them, and return as many of them to you as I am able.”

“Dear fathers. My young sons. My future stripling warriors. Return to your homes and make this a matter of prayer within your families. If you are willing to do this, to enter into this covenant, then I bid you meet here again at dawn, ready to march.”

The murmuring within the crowd became a rumble as Helaman stepped down from the wooden box and left the room. Some of the fathers were clearly angry. Others had tears streLiamg down their cheeks. Most, however, were silent as they filed out of the hall and began to return to their homes.

# # #

Liam tossed on his pallet, pulling the blankets up to his chin. There was no way he would sleep this night. He had stolen glances at his father during the silent walk home. It had been too dark to see his father’s face but he could hear an occasional sniff and cough, signs that his father was working through strong emotions.

Liam was too stunned for emotion. He had never expected this. Not in his wildest imagination. Not really. Although he and his friends had talked about fighting, they were stories fueled by boasting and bluff. Liam had never really expected he would be called upon to go to war. He had been prepared to say goodbye to his father, to shoulder the extra responsibility to keep the farm running in his father’s absence. But to leave himself? To fight? To kill?

Liam tossed again in the darkness. What was he to do? He had prayed until his throat ached and tears flowed, begging for direction, pleading with the Lord to let him stay home with his family—but the heavens were silent tonight. He stretched his arms above his head, gently pulling the too tight muscles of his back. Then he put his hands to his pounding temples. This was no good.

Maybe he should get up and work on the stool. He needed only to add one more cluster of jasmine, some ivy leaves and a few swirls to the design on the backrest. No. He would never finish it in one night. If he went with Helaman, the stool would have to wait until the war was over—just one more of a hundred reasons for him not to go.

The blanket hanging over the doorway to his bedchamber slid sideways and a pale light from an oil lamp peeked through the gap. Liam’s mother slipped in silently, letting the blanket fall back in place behind her. She sat on the floor beside his pallet, putting her head down next to his, her long dark hair spilling against Liam’s shoulder. For a moment, Liam breathed in the slight scent of jasmine that always accompanied his mother. Her favorite flower.

“Mamaí, what should I do?” he asked.

There was no answer, although he could feel her arms tighten up as she lay next to him. After several long minutes, she spoke.

“Liam, you have been taught all your life to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before Him. You are strong in the faith, valiant, and courageous. Do what the Lord tells you to do in this matter.”

She snuggled closer to Liam for a moment, then kissed his cheek and stood up. “Your father and I will honor your decision.”

As she paused at the doorway, she said, “If you choose to go, you will be in the Lord’s hands. I know it.” Then she was gone and the room was once again in darkness.

Liam rolled onto his side, then knelt on his pallet. He prayed more powerfully and sincerely than he had ever prayed in his life. No more tears. No more begging and pleading. He asked for clear direction, praying only to know God’s will and for the courage to carry it out.

It was nearly dawn before Liam had his answer, but when it came, he was sure of it.

# # #

The sky was the silver gray of pre-dawn as Liam walked back to the council hall. Mamaí walked beside him with her arm around his waist. Father carried Anna on his shoulders. They had all risen early that morning to help him prepare to leave. Liam carried a small goatskin bag slung over his shoulder containing a change of clothing and enough bread, cheese, dried meat, guavas and pears to last four days. A filled water skin hung from a belt tied around his waist. He had no weapon yet but father had given him a sturdy walking stick that could act as a defense in a pinch.

Liam tried to memorize every sensation on the way to town—from the scent of jasmine in his mother’s hair, to Anna’s giggle, to his father’s heavy tread on the dirt road. He noticed a flash of emerald green as a hummingbird swooped past him on its way to some bright yellow lilies that were not yet fully opened.

“It is early in the day for hummingbirds,” said Mamaí and squeezed his arm.

As they neared the marketplace at the center of town, Liam heard an orange-headed tunki chirrup. It serenaded them from an avocado tree. Anna clapped her hands. Liam wanted to share in her delight but his stomach was churning even more than the night before. All he could think of was how ill prepared he was. Other than wrestling with his friends, he had no fighting skills. Helaman would surely be disappointed.

The marketplace was filled to overflowing with families saying their goodbyes. There were people in the council hall, in the temple yard, and in the garden. Helaman was by the council hall, overseeing the loading of a number of alpacas and carts with supplies. It looked like they were nearly done. Liam had never seen so many people gathered here all at one time.

Liam’s father handed Anna down off his shoulders to Mamaí. “Liamnihah—Liam. I am proud of you, son.” For the first time in months, his father gathered him in his arms, giving him a hug that squeezed the breath out of his lungs. Liam was not complaining. He hugged him back.

Mamaí took a turn as well, her eyes filled with tears. After a long embrace, she stepped back and pushed Liam’s hair out of his eyes. Then she drew his favorite headband from her pocket and slipped it over his brow, smoothing his hair flat. Any other day, Liam would feel like a baby letting his mother fix his hair in the marketplace, but today he did not mind.

“About time you got here, llama-spit,” said a voice behind Liam, accompanied by a smack on the back of his head. Sheresh was in high spirits.

“Are we ready then?” asked Liam.

“Almost. We are supposed to meet in the council hall for a few words from Helaman.”

The two boys walked into the hall together, followed by their families. The young men were gathered in the center of the hall, while parents, siblings and others lined the walls. It was crowded and noisy. Liam spotted Yoran in a corner talking with Zera. Her face was tipped up toward his, so close their noses almost touched. Liam wondered if Yoran would steal a kiss before he left.

Helaman entered the hall bringing silence with him. The only sound was the shuffling of bodies as he made his way to the front. Yaron joined Liam and Sheresh near the middle of the group.

“So did you kiss her?” Liam whispered. It was a stupid thing to say, but it broke the silence as some of the young men around them overheard and laughed nervously.

Yaron mustered a grin and moved his eyebrows up and down.

“Alpaca-breath,” Sheresh muttered.

Helaman stepped up on the wooden box where he had stood the night before.

“I thank the Lord that so many of you have come to fight for your country, your people. Although our stripling army is small, I know we will add to our numbers as we pass through other towns on our way to aid Judea. Those of faith will join us because we uphold the cause of freedom and God is on our side. I promise that if you are true to your faith, you will be a great aide in this battle to keep us free.”

Helaman looked into the faces of the young men. “May God bless you,” he said. He raised his fist into the air. “To liberty?”

“To liberty!” echoed through the room as the young men punched their fists into the air, determined resolve on every face.

Liam did not know what the future held for him. None of them did. He might never see his town again, or his family. He might be injured. He most likely would be killed. But he could not deny the feeling of peace that had come to him in the early hours before dawn. This was what God wanted him to do.
Liam looked at Sheresh, then at Yaron. The three friends smiled, then stepped forward to follow Helaman out of the hall.

23: More Blessed Are They

Marih pounded the mallet rhythmically against the sides of the stone basin. With each strike, the pile of grain inside shrunk in size and bulk. Marih watched as the heavy stone mallet she wielded changed each kernel to nothing but chaff and dust.

Although the day was hot, it was cool in the shaded storage lean-to at the side of Marih’s family hut. The thick walls of woven grasses that made the cooking area inside oppressive in the heat didn’t exist in the lean-to. Marih was glad that Mother had sent her outside to work. She needed time to think and some space from the women’s gossip that was guaranteed to coat the kitchen on cooking day.

Normally Marih loved to hear the grown women, her mother’s friends, talk on cooking day. It was interesting to hear them talk of their families and their work. Marih had learned so much from their talk that she wondered if her mother had volunteered to provide the gathering place on cooking day for Marih’s benefit. From the women’s talk, she knew just the right day to plant sweet herbs. She knew how many stones to circle in a fire ring for the best luck. From the women’s talk, she knew how to bathe a newborn baby and how much was too much for a father to ask in a betrothal settlement. Marih had learned all these things on cooking days, things that without older or younger siblings and no grandmothers she may have never learned.

Once Marih asked her mother why she didn’t have a brother or sister. Mother’s look grew sad, as sad as the day when Marih was very little when her father buried her last grandmother, and then Mother said, “It was not the will of God.” The tears in her mother’s eyes made Marih promise herself never to ask that question again.

But it had been months since Marih had enjoyed the cooking day gossip. The change came suddenly as the topic of the women’s conversation had all at once shifted from the usual complaints and suggestions about husbands and children to a new theme: what had happened when He came, what He had said, and when He would come again. And over and over again, as Marih listened from the storage lean-to, from the garden, or while hovering in the yard she asked herself the same questions: How had she missed Him? Why hadn’t He come to her?

Marih pounded the mallet on the side of the basin to shake off the clinging particles. She used a gourd to scoop the flour into the meal bag. Mother would be expecting the ground meal any moment to help cook their portion of the meal cakes for the week, but instead of carrying the sack to the cooking area inside, Marih searched around for something to keep her outside of the hot hut and away from the voices she was trying to ignore.

“That boy is just stronger and stronger every day,” Nihma, a woman about Marih’s mother’s age said. “I never thought I’d ever see my son work the fields alongside his father, but off he goes each morning. He still comes home early in the afternoon, but he could do that his whole life and I’d never complain.”

“It was your son, then, the one that was once crippled?” Gilan, a younger woman asked.

“Yes,” Nihma replied. Marih could almost hear her broad smile as she spoke. “That boy’s legs were crooked from the minute he was born. The midwife said that he wouldn’t last a week, but he did just the same, and he made it all the way to sixteen. Now he’s a strong, healthy, normal boy for the first time, thanks to the Master.”

“I’ll never forget it, as long as I live,” said Ama, an elderly woman who had been coming to cooking day for a long time. “‘My bowels are filled with compassion towards you,’ He said. ‘Bring them hither and I will heal them,’ and He did!”

The kitchen fell into a silent hush. Marih looked off into the distance towards Bountiful, where He had come, where all these miracles had happened. She loved to listen to the stories and wished herself far away every time they talked about Him, all at the same time. She believed what had happened. She believed that He had really come, just as the prophets and said for hundreds of years, but she wondered why He hadn’t come to her. Why had she been missed?

“Kallai,” Nihma, the mother of the crippled boy, called to Marih’s mother. The sound made Marih start and she heard the women in the kitchen set to work again. “Where is that girl of yours? I’m ready to add the meal.”

“She has been a while,” Marih heard her mother say. “Marih?” she called.

Marih scrambled around, trying to remember what she was doing, grabbed the sack of grain, and started for the open door.

“Thank you, dear, was it harder than normal?” her mother asked as Marih placed the flour on a table.

“No, I—” Marih looked into her mother’s face. Her eyes searched Marih’s, but she spared Marih from needing an excuse.

“Would you like to help here?” Mother asked.

Marih looked down. She was glad the other women were too busy with their own tasks to notice her hesitancy.

“Why don’t you bring your father his lunch?” Mother suggested instead.

Marih smiled briefly and nodded. The lunch basket sat in the corner. She took it and left the hut. As she moved away from the cooking women, she heard just a few last snatches of their conversation: “Hunger and thirst after righteousness,” they said. “The salt of the earth.”

Marih sighed and kicked at the dust in the road. She wanted to be happy. She wanted to rejoice with everyone else about what had happened. She wanted to be changed too.

Everyone was changed. All everyone talked about was Him and what He said. Marih loved that. She felt good about everything He said. She never wanted to stop listening, until she remembered how He hadn’t come to her.

“I was tending you inside the hut,” Marih’s mother had explained. “Your father had just finished healing from the nasty gash on his head from the earthquake when you fell ill with fever. It had been two days since you had opened your eyes, and we were so worried.

“Your sleep was so fitful, and I couldn’t keep dry sheets beneath you, you were sweating through them so fast. I was praying by your bedside that God would spare you when I heard a soft whisper answering me.”

“What was it?” Marih asked.

“I didn’t know,” her mother said. “I opened my eyes and looked around for your father, but it was his first day back in the fields. Then the voice came again. I went outside, and saw all of the others staring around too. They were pointing towards Bountiful, towards the temple, and we all started heading there.

“I can’t believe I left you like that,” Marih’s mother continued. “I don’t know what came over me. I guess somehow I knew that everything would be all right, and I knew I had to get to the temple.”

“What was it like?” Marih had asked at least a hundred times. “When you got to the temple and saw Him—what was He like?”

“It was—” Marih’s mother paused each time she answered this question, searching for the right word, “it was wonderful.” Her mother sighed. Marih had heard the story of seeing Him, of touching Him, so many times before. “Then when I came back to you,” her mother finished, “the fever was gone.”

As Marih continued along the road towards the fields, she felt that familiar sting in her eyes as she remembered her mother’s words: “It was wonderful.”

Marih clutched the lunch basket tighter and tried to focus on something else, anything else, but everything reminded her how she had been left behind, how He must not have cared. She passed dozens of people whose kind acts and shining faces showed how much He had changed them—former misers who were now full of generosity, previously bickering couples serving each other, and the once forlorn elderly now full of hope. They talked of “treasures in heaven,” forgiveness, and faith.

Then there were the children. The children she passed on the way to the fields waved and said hello to her. Marih tried to give them smiles in return, but it was hard to think that they had all been there, all but her. He had prayed for them, blessed them, and wept over them, all but her.

“What was it like?” she asked that same question to her friend Amar when he visited as she was recovering from the fever. “The fire, and the angels?”

Amar looked at the wall beyond Marih’s bedside for a long moment before he spoke. “It didn’t feel like fire,” he said, “not like the fire we can make. It felt more like glowing. And the angels, they were people. Looking into their faces, it was like they knew me although I had never seen them before. And everything about them shone with light.”

Marih was approaching the fields. She shielded her eyes from the high sun and scanned the working shapes to find her father. He was sitting in the shade of the tree with several other men who were waiting for their lunches.

“Looks like your lucky day, Shemnon” one of the men said to Marih’s father as she approached.

“Come, Lenhi,” Marih’s father laughed, “it looks like your girl is on her way as well. Remember, life is ‘more than meat, and the body than raiment.’”

It sounded like some sort of joke, but the men didn’t laugh. They smiled knowingly and nodded their heads. They knew her father was quoting Him.

“And how is cooking day?” her father asked.

“Fine,” Marih answered.

“We’ve seen Shimik, Nihma’s son, working the fields in the morning,” one man said. “She must be very grateful.”

“She is,” Marih agreed, “she mentions it all the time.”

The men nodded. Marih could see the remembrance in their eyes. They knew what it was like.

Marih took her time going home from the fields. She wanted to wait until cooking day was over, and she wanted to keep to her own thoughts for a while. When she reached the hut again, the other women had gone home to start their suppers and make things ready before the sun went down. Mother sat by the window weaving.

“How were the fields today?” she asked Marih.

“The men said the land was healing, that maybe the earthquake would make the farms more fruitful.”

Marih’s mother smiled. Marih could tell that she believed that it was true—that the land was healed and that even the earthquakes turned into a blessing.

When Marih looked back, her mother’s smile had faded. “Marih,” she asked, “what’s wrong? You’re stronger than ever now, but you’re still not yourself.”

Marih sat on a stool at her mother’s side and started re-rolling a bundle of yarn. “You already know, Mother,” she said. “I am trying to have faith. I am grateful that my fever was healed when He came, but I still don’t understand why I couldn’t be there.”

Her mother sighed. “If I would have known what this would mean to you, I would have done anything to bring you back,” she said again. “When we came back that night and you were sleeping peacefully, we were so grateful that we forgot about everything else. The next day, your father returned to the temple, but you were still so weak that I stayed here with you.”

Marih twisted the soft yarn in her hands. “I know, Mother. You did right. I just still wish I could have seen Him.”

Later that night, after their evening meal and reading of the scriptures, Marih’s father called her to his side.

“You are much too troubled, daughter,” he said.

Marih looked up at him. She didn’t have to explain to him once again. As a quiet tear rolled down her cheek, he scooped her up, big as she was at thirteen, and held her close.

“Tomorrow, Marih,” he said, “I want to take you to Nephi.”

Marih looked into his face. “The prophet?” she asked.

“Yes. Nephi was chosen by the Lord himself. I know you feel like He forgot you, dearest, but I think talking to Nephi will help.”

Her father fulfilled his promise the next day. Instead of leaving for the fields in the morning with the other men, he washed and dressed and started on the several mile journey with her to the temple.

“Why would the prophet want to see me?” Marih asked. “Isn’t he too busy?”

“I’ve told him about you,” her father said.

“You have?” Marih was surprised.

Her father smiled. “Marih,” he said. “Remember how before the earthquakes a lot of people in the village were angry?”

Marih shuddered. She didn’t like to think about things before the earthquakes. Times were hard then.

“But He said,” her father continued, “‘There shall be no disputations among you.’”

“‘He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,’” Marih finished for him.

“Exactly,” Marih’s father smiled.

“But what does that have to do with Nephi? Others have changed, but he’s always been good.”

“Why have they changed, Marih?”

Marih thought. She knew that the words of Jesus made her feel kind and like doing good. “Because He taught them how?” she asked.

“Yes,” her father agreed. “He taught them how, and He taught them to be like Him: ‘I would that ye should be perfect, even as I.’”

Marih’s brow wrinkled. She still didn’t quite understand what Father was saying.

“Jesus changed us because He taught us to be like Him,” her father said.

“But how will seeing Nephi help me?” Marih asked.

“Because Nephi, just like everybody else, has become more like Him.”

The prophet lived in a hut not far from the temple. Although it was usually a quiet, peaceful place, the temple grounds that day were busy and full of workman who were volunteering their day to repair some of the damage from the earthquakes.

Marih’s father led her to the back door of the hut. “His work desk is on this side,” her father explained as he knocked on the thin door.

“Come in,” Nephi’s voice called.

Marih had seen Nephi before, but not since the Savior had come. He was not an old man, only a few years older than her father, but since she had seen him last he looked wiser somehow. He was sitting at a desk covered in scrolls and writings.

“Shemnon,” Nephi smiled a greeting. “I thought you would come sometime soon.”

“You know about me?” Marih couldn’t help asking in surprise.

“Of course I do. Your father is my friend, and you are his family. I hear all about you.”

Marih felt more at ease than she thought she would. Although Nephi was a prophet, he was very easy to talk to. He pushed the papers he was writing aside and motioned for Marih to come nearer.

“You worry too much for a child,” Nephi said not unkindly.

Marih wanted to say she was thirteen, and not quite a child still, but she felt so silly and small to bring her questions to the prophet that instead she asked, “Why me, Nephi? Why didn’t I see Him?”

Nephi searched her face. He didn’t hurry to answer. “Do you remember the earthquakes?”

“Of course!” Marih exclaimed. It was days and days of destruction and darkness. Marih thought she would never see the sun again.

“Your father was injured,” Nephi pointed to the scar on her father’s forehead, “but others people died.”

Marih had tried to forget how many, but lots of her friends had loved ones who were now gone.

“Why?” Nephi asked.

Marih looked up in surprise. Why was the prophet asking her a question? “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Why did those people die, while others were healed when the Master came?”

Marih shook her head. She had never thought of this before, and she didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know either, Marih,” Nephi said, “and I’m glad.”

“You’re glad that some people died?” Marih was confused.

“No,” Nephi said seriously, “I’m glad that I don’t know why.”

Marih nodded. She realized she was glad too. It would be too complex to know—so many reasons why or why not.

“Do you think that’s the same with me?” she asked. “You don’t know why, and you’re glad?”

Nephi nodded. “But I am also glad that He knows all. He even knows you.”

Marih looked into Nephi’s eyes. She saw truth there and knew that what the prophet said was true. Jesus even knew her.

“You’ve heard a lot of what He taught?” Nephi asked her.

“Yes, very much,” Marih replied.

Nephi smiled. “Your father has told me, and I can tell, that you truly love the Word, child.”

Marih nodded again.

“Do you know what He said about you?” Nephi asked.

“About me?” Marih couldn’t imagine anything the Master could have said about her.

“Yes, you,” Nephi said. “There were special things that Jesus taught, some things that He taught only to us twelve, to me and your father and the others.”

Marih leaned forward, giving Nephi her full attention. She didn’t know this. She thought everyone who was there had heard everything.

“I am writing many of those things now,” Nephi gestured to the scrolls on his writing table, “so that the people will have them as well, but there are some things I think you should know now, Marih. He said, ‘Blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.’”

Marih looked down. How could she be baptized if she hadn’t seen Him?

Nephi continued quoting, “‘And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.’”

Marih’s heart thrilled. Was it true? Was there a place for her to believe, even though she had not seen? She looked up into Nephi’s loving eyes and felt that what her father had said was right—knowing Nephi or anyone else who had been changed was like knowing Him. Nephi was telling her that she could be changed too.

“Marih,” Nephi asked, “do you have faith in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that through His Atonement you can be cleansed from your sins, and do you have a desire to be baptized in His name?”

“Yes,” Marih said, still looking at Nephi, and she meant it with all her heart.

Nephi smiled at her father. “We haven’t had many children baptized yet, but Marih is over the age of eight, and she will be the first of many. I will call to Amos to make sure the dam in the river is in place.”

Marih’s father beamed down at her, but left to her own thoughts. Marih felt warmth and love inside unlike anything she had ever felt before. Being baptized, being called one of the members of the Church of Christ, was what she wanted more than anything. She was happier than she had ever been before; she was already beginning to feel a change.

Nephi had just barely left the hut, but came back again. “Marih?” he asked again. “Have you forgotten about the fire?”

Marih looked up. “You mean the angels?”

Nephi nodded.

Marih didn’t know what to say. She thought about how she was feeling now, and she didn’t feel the sadness about anything anymore.

Nephi continued before she had to respond, “He also said, ‘For they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost.’”

Marih’s smiled broadened. She felt a pricking of tears in her eyes, but tears that went with the swelling of happiness in her heart instead of the sadness that she’d been keeping for so long. “For they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost,” she thought. And she was.

22: Two Thousand Sons and One Daughter

by Emily M.

I did not fidget in the meeting. Much. Besides twirling my hair and tapping my toes, I barely moved at all. It was a long meeting, and I hated having to hush and sit in the back next to Mother, while Ammah was treated as though he were a man. He was fifteen, and a boy, and allowed to participate. I was fourteen, and a girl, so I had to hold my tongue and try to stay still. At least Mother waited with me. We were both too anxious to be at home.

It was Father’s turn to speak. “I cannot allow more Nephites to die without doing something to help,” he said. “I will go and fight the Lamanites. It is time to take up arms again.”

All around him men murmured their support. “They all feel useless,” my mother whispered. “Your father still hates letting others fight his battles.”

Helaman spoke next.“You cannot do this, Kish” he said. “You took a sacred oath.”

“Is the oath more important than watching Nephites die to protect our families?” said Father. “When I took that oath I was alone, not yet married. I want my family to live.”

“You will lose your souls,” Helaman said. He walked up to my father. My father was a large man, who had to duck to enter doorways. Helaman was much shorter. But Helaman grasped him by the shoulders, and looked up into his eyes. “You will lose your souls,” he repeated. “I cannot deny that we need more men to fight, and yet I will not accept your help.”

My father held his gaze for a minute, challenging him, and then nodded. Helaman was the prophet.

“I’ll go,” Ammah said, rising. His voice squeaked at the end. It was changing. I smirked and Mother gave me a look.

“You?” Father said. “You?” He stared at Ammah.

“I made no oath,” Ammah said. “I can fight.” He straightened up, trying to be tall like Father.

Helaman eyed him. Ammah was small for his age, and skinny. I still beat him when Father trained us in sword fighting. Every time. “You?” Helaman said, echoing Father. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, sir,” Ammah said. His voice changed again, going deep. “Fifteen, but Father has taught me how to fight, and I know God will protect me. I have made no oath. I can fight.”

Across the room the other boys raised their hands, too. “I’ll go,” said Shem. And Morianton. And Lamanonhi. All the ones from our village.

Father could not speak for a minute. He looked so proud. “You have restored our honor,” he said finally, his voice breaking like Ammah’s.

Helaman seemed less confident. “How many are there?” he asked. “Where will they get weapons? How can I send a fifteen-year-old boy to fight? Who will lead them?”

“From all the Ammonites, there are around two thousand,” Father said. “We will find weapons somehow. And they are young, but they want to go. Please accept their offering.”

“And you can be our leader,” Ammah said. “Please?”

Helaman looked around at Ammah and all his friends, and at their proud fathers, and said, “How can I refuse?” Ammah cheered, and all his friends did too. Helaman smiled, a pained smile. I felt sorry for him. He hadn’t wanted any Ammonites to fight at all, and now he was the leader of all our sons.

Beside me, Mother wept. “You will be losing Ammah,” I said. “Ammah will die out there. I’m so sorry, Mother. He’s a terrible swordsman. Only the power of God can save him, really.”

“Not that,” she said. “I’m proud of Ammah, and I think he will do well.”

It was my turn to give Mother a look. She looked back. “You always underestimate your brother,” she said. “No, I’m crying because I am grateful to God that your father did not fight again. That is all.”

“Would it be so bad if he did?” I asked. I only knew the Father who worked in our fields, who helped the sheep at lambing time. The one who caught fireflies and released them inside for our private show. I had heard echoes of who he was before, the fierce Lamanite captain, but I had never seen that side of him.

“It would be terrible,” Mother said. “You may not realize that, but it’s true. God will protect Ammah, as He has kept your father from fighting again. God is good to us.”

She still cried. I handed her a bit of cloth for her dripping nose. “Let’s go home,” Mother said. She rose, and held out her hand to lift me up. “They will be all night talking, and there is much to do to get Ammah ready. We should start now.”

We walked home. The corn fields lay still, the fireflies winked at us, and behind us in the meeting the men prepared the boys to go to war. I wondered if God would protect me, a girl, if I went to war. It bothered me to see my younger brother go off to battle clothed in my father’s pride, while I received nothing. If they needed Ammah, I decided, they would surely need me too. I would find a way to join Helaman’s army. Two thousand sons, and one daughter.

If Mother noticed that I prepared Ammah as though he were two people, packing twice the dried fruit, two times the flatbread, she said nothing. She was distracted herself, and went about her day whispering prayers under her breath. Father did not notice either, spending all his time instructing Ammah’s friends on basic fighting skills, because most of their fathers had chosen not to train their sons. Father refused to touch a sword; he used sticks to demonstrate as he taught.

“I should see if Aunt Tia needs anything,” I said loudly while working. “I haven’t been to visit for a while.” Mother’s sister lived in the next village over. If I disappeared, Mother would think I had gone there first, and not come looking until it was too late.

“I think Tia is well,” Mother said. “She only has daughters, no sons to get ready. But she will want to see you and hear our news.”

“I’ll go visit soon,” I said. Mother nodded.

After we prepared Ammah’s food we began getting his clothing ready. Mother took thick leather and stitched it into armor. I did the same, cobbling together castoff bits into something that might, if I was lucky, protect me from the Lamanites.

“What is that you’re doing?” she asked me. We sat outside in the late afternoon, working together. “Ammah will be wearing the armor I make. Whatever you’re making is full of holes. Scraps don’t work well when it comes to armor.”

“It’s better than nothing,” I said. “They may be scraps, but the leather is thick. Some people would be glad to have it.”

“Some people have metal,” Ammah said, walking up to us. Mother raised an eyebrow at him.

“I’m not complaining,” he said quickly. “Just saying, some people have metal, that’s all.”

“And some people have nothing,” she said. “Mariah, put down that armor and go practice with Ammah. He needs to be brought down to size.”

“Go practice with one of the boys,” I told him. “That’s who you’ll be fighting with.”

“Don’t be sulky because you can’t come,” Ammah said. “You’re the only one who can really give me a good fight.”

Ammah knew how to persuade me, and it worked. “All right,” I said. I set down my ragged armor. The turkeys crowded me, but I shooed them away. I found my practice sword, weighted like a real one, strong enough to bruise but not sharp enough to kill.

Ammah pulled out his practice sword and held it ready, fighting stance. He blocked me, and blocked me again, and began to parry with a speed I had never seen from him, until my sword clattered to the ground, landing on my toes.

“Ow,” I yelled, but then I laughed, from the surprise of it. Ammah beat me. He fought as though all the lessons Father had taught him over the years finally sank in. He had never been a natural, until now.

I wanted to be happy for him. Part of me was. Another part, though, was jealous. Not only did Ammah get to go to war, but he now had some divine strength that enabled him to do the impossible: beat me at swordfighting.

Ammah grinned, wiped the sweat from his face, and said, “Two out of three?” But he saw my face and said, “Mariah! Don’t be sad when you don’t win for the first time! Take some lessons in losing well. I never made you feel bad for winning all these years.”

It was true. I shook his damp hand. It felt strong. “Well fought,” I said. “Well done.” I began to doubt, a little, my resolve to join them. God had made Ammah into someone stronger and quicker than he really was. Would he make me into something more too, because I was also engaged in a noble cause? Or would the protection Ammah enjoyed not extend to me? Because I had not been invited to the war, but I went anyway.

Ammah and the other boys left two days later. Father and Mother and I waved goodbye, standing in the doorway, watching Ammah and our village boys till they disappeared.

I had everything ready to follow, stashed high up in my favorite tree: food, armor, sword, and a set of Ammah’s old clothes. I gave them three days, enough time to get ahead of me, not too much for me to catch up to. Surely one person walking alone would make better time than two thousand, even if they went quickly. One person, even laden as I would be.

I left early in the morning, while the light was still gray. I crept out, not wanting to wake either of my parents. Mother stirred a little, and Father gave a great snore just as I reached the doorway. I laughed, which nearly woke Mother, but she settled down and I snuck outside. I climbed my tree and found my stash. I tossed it down, settled it around myself, and began walking to join Ammah and the rest of Helaman’s army.

They were heading towards Judea, and I followed the path easily. In the early morning the birds twittered and called around me, and the air smelled sweet. It felt very good to be alive, and leaving to join Ammah and the sons of Helaman.

The first day I half expected my father to come running after me, dragging me back home. In my imagination I even thought I heard footsteps behind me. Mother and Father must have believed that I was at Aunt Tia’s. I passed no one, saw nothing but trees and animals and, at night, the stars hanging low. I looked up at them for a long time before I fell asleep. Mother taught that God dwelled in the heavens and watched over us, His children. I prayed that He would look down on me in mercy. Let me show everyone what I can do, I begged God. Let me be an instrument in thy hands like Ammah and all his friends, to help do a great work.

I waited a long time. The silence around me heard my prayer and approved of it, and finally I slept.

In the morning I was creaky and cold, but I began walking anyway. I wondered how long the leather on my sandals would last. Long enough to reach Judea, or see Ammah again, or fight my first battle?

I stopped at a stream to fill my water skin, and knelt down beside a great boulder. Fish darted through the water. I wanted to catch one. I still had plenty of food, but fresh fish was always welcome. I picked out a slow fish, but I did not have long to meditate on catching him, because ahead of me I heard voices. I hid behind the boulder and listened.

“Report for the general on the new reinforcements going to Judea,” one of them said. “Only two thousand, beardless and scrawny. Not worth the bother of returning to report.”

The other one laughed. “We won’t be fighting anytime soon,” he said. “We’ll lose Antiparah if we leave it. Let them have Judea.”

“It’s not for us to make that decision,” the first one said.

They were returning from spying on Helaman and his army. I tried to melt into the ground, so they wouldn’t notice me or look behind the boulder. I reached for my sword, slowly, hoping they would not catch the movement. I should not be scared of Lamanites, I told myself, because if things had gone differently I would be one of them. I could be a Lamanite girl right now, watching my father and brother go off to fight against the Nephites. If Father had not had a change of heart, I could be their younger sister.

Their voices died away and I relaxed. They had left. I stood up from the boulder, still holding the sword, still feeling the rush of fear. Then I heard one call, “Ho, Oreb! My water skin is empty. Wait for me, I’ll catch up with you.”

I ducked down again too late, and he saw me.

“Who are you?” he called, running towards me. “Another beardless Nephite boy. Off to join your friends? Did they leave you behind?”

I held my sword out, ready to fight. “I’m not a boy,” I began, but then realized that it would be better if they thought I was. “I’m not a Nephite, I’m an Ammonite,” I said.

“You mean a traitor,” he answered. “Doesn’t matter anyway. You’ll be coming with us.”

“I’m g-going to join the army,” I said. I stuttered a little. The tip of my sword wavered.

He looked at my drawn sword and laughed at it. “Is that how you want it?” he said. “You really want to fight?”

“I am ready,” I said. And saying made me feel confident, ready, able.

He drew his sword, annoyed, as though he intended to knock mine down and grab me instead. But I blocked him, again and again, as Ammah had done to me. I had him sweating, dancing about me, never able to reach me.

“Boy, you are a much better fighter than I thought,” he said. “But you should know that–“

“Thus we see how the Lord protects those who fight for him!” I interrupted. I almost had him, I could tell. He was getting fatigued. “Thus we see–“ I said– and then I felt a rock smash into my gut, and the Lamanite spy’s companion appeared.

“I have to rescue you from him, Pekah?” the companion said. “You’re getting old and soft, spying instead of fighting.”

“Shut up and tie him, Oreb,” said Pekah. He panted from the exertion of the fight. “We can’t have another traitor joining Helaman, even a kid like him.”

He held my wrists tightly as he tied them up. I felt stunned. This was how God defended me? Allowing me to get captured by the Lamanites on my second day away from home? Was not my purpose as noble as Ammah’s? Did I not deserve divine help too?

“If you’ll let me on my way,” I said, “I would like to be going now.”

They both laughed. Pekah was bald and paunchy, and much older than the other one called Oreb, He was tall and gangly, with bad teeth. “Too late for that,” Oreb said. “You’re a prisoner, and if you don’t behave we’ll just kill you.”

Pekah pulled me around so I faced him. His bald head still glistened with sweat from our fight. He spat in my face. “You’re the son of a traitor,” he said. “I hate the traitors. Who was your father? Which one was he?”

He pulled back on my wrists. Hard. I refused to speak or say anything. Until he pulled even harder, and then I could stand no more. “Kish,” I said.

He dropped my wrists. “Kish? Your father was Kish?”

I nodded. “Did you know him?” I said.

Pekah seemed uncertain for a moment, but then glared at me. “He was a filthy traitor like the rest of them,” he said. “Now march.”

He led us off the main road, to a narrow winding track. I walked in front of them and listened to Pekah. He spoke loudly, as though he wanted to make sure I heard everything he said.

“Twenty years ago I fought with the traitors. They were leaders, they were strong men, they were fighters. And they left us to join the Nephites.”

Oreb said, “You’ve told me all of this before.”

“Shut up,” Pekah said. “I’m telling you again. I hate the traitors. Because of them we became weak. Because of them thousands of people left. Because they refused to fight I killed fifty of them in one day.” He paused for a minute. “I’ve never killed so many people in one day before,” he said.

He surprised me. I expected him to say it as a boast, but he was not boasting. Wistful, sad, but not proud.

“Didn’t she say her father was Kish?” Oreb said. “The one who swore to drink the blood and eat the hearts of his enemies. And he always did.”

“That’s right,” Pekah said. “He was fierce, strong. When he turned traitor it devastated the army.”

“Drink blood?” I whispered. “Eat hearts?” I had always imagined my father like a Lamanite Captain Moroni. I didn’t know how to let go of that image.

My wrists hurt. My feet stumbled, kicking up dust clouds that blinded me, and made my eyes water. But I could not indulge in tears right now, in spite of aching wrists and awful truths. If I did, these Lamanites might discover who I really was. Not Kish’s son, but his daughter.

“Didn’t Kish take you in after your father died?” Oreb asked Pekah. “I swear you told me that once. That you grew up in the band of Captain Kish?”

“You remember wrong,” Pekah said. “Kish was a traitor. That’s all you need to know.”

They fell silent. We walked. I imagined more footsteps behind me, but there was no one, only me and two Lamanite spies. I began to pray. I have gotten myself in a terrible mess, I told God. No one knows I’m here. No one has any idea the path the Lamanites have taken me. My parents may guess I’m with Helaman and his army, but they will follow the path of the army trail, not this small track for spies. I need a miracle.

But nothing happened. Dusk fell and they loosened my arms enough for me to feed myself. And then, in spite of the pain in my wrists, I fell asleep, exhausted from walking and fighting and being abandoned by God.

In the morning Pekah jerked me awake. “We’re heading for Antiparah,” he said. “They are waiting for my report. Time to get moving.” He let me eat.

Oreb had gone scouting ahead, so it was just me and Pekah. “How is your father?” he asked, almost friendly. “Does he talk about his captain days?”

“He’s quiet,” I said. “He farms the fields and tends the flocks. We have turkeys and sheep.”

“But does he never talk about the people he left behind when he became an Ammonite?”

Father had never said anything to me. “Father only talks to me when he tells me how to fight,” I said. “But he doesn’t use a sword anymore. After the great battle when he killed so many people, he took all his weapons and buried them in the pit with the other ones.”

Pekah sniffed. “He should know better,” he said. “Kish should not have left the Lamanites to become a Nephite. He abandoned us.”

Pekah seemed to care more about my father than he would admit. “Were you and my father friends?” I asked.

“Shut up,” he said, and we finished eating in silence.

Oreb returned. “No one ahead for the next mile,” he said, “and we’ll reach the stream soon.”

So we resumed walking. This time I was almost sure I heard someone behind us. That extra rustling was not my imagination. Perhaps it was an animal?

We stopped for water when we met the stream. Oreb went off to relieve himself. Pekah untied my wrists but fastened my ankles. “You do your business,” he said, “I’m going to rest for a minute.”

He lay down on the bank and closed his eyes. “I’m listening to you,” he said. “Don’t try anything funny.”

I bent to fill my waterskin and felt someone watching me. I turned around and there he was, the source of the footsteps. He stood on the path, five feet away. My father: Lamanite captain, blood-drinker, traitor, swordfighting teacher, firefly gatherer, farmer. And now the one to find me.

“How did you find me?” I said, mouthing out the words so that Pekah wouldn’t stir. “How did you know where to go?”

“I’ve been following you since you left,” he said. “Did you think we hadn’t noticed you were planning to leave? Did you think I would let my only daughter go fight alone?”

I wanted to be angry at him for not trusting me to go by myself, but I was too relieved to be mad. “You let me think I was alone,” I said.

“You wanted to be,” he said. “But you were never alone.” He walked over and loosened my ropes completely, and gathered my bag and sword. Then he glanced at Pekah, and went pale. “Who is that?” he said.

Pekah woke up. He stared for a minute, dazed. “Kish!” he said.

“It’s me, Pekah,” Father said. “How have you been?” He sounded shy and uncertain. My father had always spoken with confidence. I had never heard him like this.

Pekah shrugged. “Spying,” he said. “You taught me well.”

“I have thought of you every single day,” Father said. He reached out his hand to Pekah, to help him up from the ground. “Every day I have wished that I could have gone back to find you.”

Pekah took his hand and stood. He looked small next to Father. “You didn’t mean to leave me?” he said.

“Never,” said Father. “You were like my son. I would never have left you.”

Pekah’s chin began to tremble, but he did not cry.

“On the day we fought the Ammonites I killed one, then two, then five, five people,” Father said to Pekah. “They lay down before my sword, and as I looked at the sixth man, who offered his chest open for striking, I became dizzy and ill. I knew that God did not want me to kill any longer. And when I lay down my sword, I felt peace, a lightness I had never known in all the blood.”

I hadn’t heard Father tell this story before. I only knew bits and pieces, but never the horror of what he had done, or the joy of his conversion.

“I fell down in a faint,” Father said. “The Ammonites carried me off the field as though I were dead. By the time I could go back for you, you and all the others were gone.”

“I killed fifty people that day,” Pekah said. “And with every one, I thought, Kish will be so proud. Kish will be glad to know I have killed the traitors so well. This is what I thought, until someone told me you had joined them.”

“I am sorry,” Father said. “I am so sorry.”

In the stillness they looked at each other and finally embraced. I saw them, and the winding path, and the clear stream, and I felt like this was a good place to be. We were all in the right place.

“So, what happens now, Father?” I asked. “You escort me to Helaman’s army, and then return home?”

“You still want that, after all that has happened?” my father said. “Really?”

“That was your plan,” said Oreb’s voice behind us, “but not anymore.” He stepped out from behind a tree. “This scene has been touching,” he said. “So Pekah, you looked to Kish as a father after all. Doesn’t matter now, though, because we are all going back to Antiparah.”

“Please,” my father said, “she’s a girl, and she needs to come home. Just let us walk away.”

Oreb snorted. “You’re not leaving,” he said. “Pekah, come help me tie them both.”

Pekah shook his head. “I can’t do that, Oreb,” he said.

Oreb grew angry. “I’ll get rid of them, then,” he said. He drew his sword.

Pekah handed his own weapon to Father. “I don’t want to fight anymore,” he said. “I have wanted let go of my sword since the day I killed fifty men, but I was too scared. Too angry at you.”

“I can’t fight either,” Father said. “I am not afraid to die. I had hoped Mariah would live longer, but I cannot fight.” Father refused Pekah’s weapon and stood in front of Oreb, palms open, face bright. “I am ready to die,” he said.

I reached for my sword. “I’m not,” I said. “I don’t want my father to die. I don’t want to die either.”

Oreb laughed. His bad teeth showed. “You are a girl,” he said. “And now that I realize it, you’re not bad-looking. Even if I kill your father, I can surely find some use for you.”

He attacked. This time I felt invincible. I could see where his sword was going seconds before, and block it. When our swords clashed some power beyond my own absorbed the impact. This time, fighting to defend my father, who it seemed like I had just met again, I knew that God was with me to the end.

And soon Oreb’s sword fell to the ground. I would not have killed him if he had not said, “I will take my revenge on you as soon as you walk back down that road. I’ll kill you and your father and Pekah, the new-minted traitor.”

I did not want to do it, but I didn’t want all of us to die either. So I stabbed him, and turned away from the blood that rushed out as he died. And I vomited, and cried.

Father pulled out the sword. It was the first time he had touched a sword in twenty years. He wiped the sword clean. “Is this what you want?” he said. “This is your taste of war. Do you want more?”

I shook my head. Now I knew. Even with God with me, as I knew He had been, it was a terrible thing to kill a man. “Why did you teach me to fight?” I asked. “You made this possible. You knew what it was really like. Why did you train me, your daughter?”

Father dipped a cloth in the stream and wiped blood from Oreb’s chest. “I trained you because I knew I would never be able to defend you myself, and I wanted you to have that strength,” he said. “But only when you needed to. I never wanted you to go looking for it. When I watched you fighting Oreb, it was all I could do to keep still and not jump to your aid.”

“It was the strength of God,” I said. “He protected me too. That’s the only reason we are still alive.”

I bent to help Father clean Oreb’s body. It was still warm, his face relaxed in death, no longer fierce and full of contempt. Pekah and Father and I each found a good sharp digging rock. We dug a grave for Oreb, and set him gently in. Then, looking at Father, Pekah set his own sword upon Oreb’s body.

I made to put mine there as well, but Father held my arm and restrained me. “Do not bury it,” he said. “We may need you to defend us on the way back.”

And so I kept it. We covered the body, and Father blessed the grave. And the three of us walked home, to the land of Jershon, where Mother waited, praying.

21: The Race

It was only one week before the annual Spring Festival. Each time the brothers had asked Father if they could enter the horse into the race, Father had said no. It didn’t matter how much prize gold there was, Nephi was getting old and they had no chance of winning. It would just hurt the horse.

Aaron and Tofia decided there was only one way to get their father’s consent: They had to prove that Nephi was fast enough. Every time Father went to the village market, the boys bribed Rachel, their younger sister, to do their chores. Then they took the horse out past the farm and raced Nephi over and over again. If they could prove that Nephi could do it–that they had a chance of winning–then Father would let them race; he had to.

With only one week before the festival, the brothers took one last morning to practice with Nephi. As soon as Father left for the market, they paid off Rachel, grabbed Nephi’s lead, and took him to the flattest place they could find. Each time he raced, Nephi sprinted faster and faster, but he still wasn’t fast enough. They had to break the record today or they wouldn’t race at the festival.

By now the sun was getting high in the sky, and the boys knew they had to hurry; Father would be back soon. Tofia said that Aaron should try ride today. Aaron was lighter, so maybe that would make the horse go faster.

Aaron sat hunched over Nephi, his mouth poised next to the horse’s ear. Nephi was breathing heavily, and Aaron slowly ran his hand down the horse’s neck to try and relax him.

“You’re going to do it this time, Nephi,” Aaron whispered to the horse, “you’re going to beat the record.”

Up ahead, Tofia reached their improvised finish line–a small pile of rocks–and raised his hand. “Ready?” he called out, his voice echoing off the hills to the north.

“Just this last time,” Aaron said softly. “Just one more and we’ll take you home.”

“Race!” Tofia called.

Aaron jabbed his feet into the horse’s sides. Nephi jolted forward, testing Aaron’s grip on his mane. Aaron held tight, pulling his body close the horse’s neck.

“Ten…eleven….” He could hear Tofia counting the time as they approached the finish line.

“Faster, Nephi, faster!” Aaron said, pushing into the horse’s sides. They sped past the finish line. Aaron pulled back on the horse’s mane. Nephi whinnied, reared up slightly, and turned to the side. “How did we do?” Aaron called, “Did we do it?”

Tofia didn’t answer. There was foam on the horse’s flanks now. Aaron hoped they hadn’t overdone it. If Nephi was still sweating when they got home, Father would really be upset.

Aaron turned the horse until he could see his brother. Tofia was still standing at the finish line, but instead of looking at them, he was staring off towards the hills.

“Tofia, what’s wrong?” Aaron asked, as he trotted the horse over.

“Look,” Tofia said, without moving his eyes.

Near the hills was a low-lying dark cloud. It looked like a dust cloud–like a herd of animals was coming towards them.

Nephi reared nervously. Aaron slipped to the ground and stood next to Tofia. “What is it?”

Tofia shook his head. “It looks like a buffalo stampede, but there shouldn’t be any out before summer. I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s heading right for us,” Aaron said.

They stood there silently, watching the cloud slowly grow in size.

“Maybe we should head home,” Aaron offered, taking a step back.

“Father’s going to be back soon.”

Tofia put his hand to his chin. “You remember the stampedes last summer? They went a lot faster than this. This looks almost like–listen!”

Aaron listened. All he heard was Nephi panting. Then slowly, he picked out another noise, a deep rhythmic noise: trum, trum, trum.


Trum, trum, trum.

Tofia whipped around and mounted the horse, pulling at Aaron’s arm to follow him. Aaron jumped on behind him. “What is it?” Aaron cried as Tofia turned the horse towards home. “Who’s drumming?”

Tofia kicked the horse and it leapt forward. “Hurry up!” he yelled.

Aaron felt Tofia kick the horse’s sides again. “Faster!”

“Tofia,” Aaron called over the sound of the pounding hoofs, “who are they?”


Tofia yanked the horse’s mane and Nephi slowed. He turned them around sharply until they could see the dust cloud again. Above Nephi’s breathing they could hear the sound of drums growing.

“Look, see those banners? That’s an army.” Tofia said, “and they aren’t Nephites.”

“What are we going to do? Should we tell Father?”

“Yes, him and everyone else in the village. If we can warn them, then the men can be ready and the women can hide. How many do you think there are?”

“I don’t know,” Aaron stammered. “Let’s go home. Father will know what to do.” Tofia shook his head. “We have to know what to tell them. I’d say there’s a thousand, mostly on foot, and a few horsemen.”

“Do you think they’ve seen us?” Aaron asked.

“It doesn’t matter. They’re coming for war, that’s all that matters. If we can warn the village, we can save them. Hold on!” As quickly as he had stopped, Tofia spun the horse around and kicked it into a gallop. The sudden movement threw Aaron back. Tofia didn’t seem to notice. “Faster,” Tofia cried to Nephi, “faster!”

Aaron hadn’t realized how far they had come to practice racing. He knew it would take at least ten minutes to get home, and another ten if they rode to the center of the village. He hoped Father would be home by now; Father had a sword. He had fought Lamanites before.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry,” Tofia called. Nephi’s flanks were now totally covered in foam. He was breathing heavily and seemed to be slowing.

“Should we slow down a little?” Aaron offered, “Father’s going to be really upset.”

“Don’t you get it? The horse doesn’t matter. We have to warn the people. If we don’t, they’ll kill them all–Father, Rachel, everyone.”

Nephi reared slightly–the way he did around other animals. Aaron turned and looked to the side. There, coming at a full gallop, was another horse. Crouched over the horse’s neck was an enormous dark-skinned man holding a large axe.

“Tofia, someone’s coming,” Aaron said.

Tofia turned and saw the man. He turned Nephi away from their pursuer. Aaron looked back again. The man was gaining. “Who is it?” Aaron asked

“A scout,” Tofia said. “They don’t want us to warn anyone. He’s trying to cut us off.” He turned them towards a thicket of trees.

Aaron looked back again. The horseman slowed slightly as he dodged through the trees, but he didn’t stop. He was close enough now that Aaron could see maroon paint on his cheeks.

“Faster, faster,” Tofia said. “He won’t chase us onto the farm.”

They burst from the thicket of trees and Tofia turned the horse straight towards their farm. The man on the horse did the same. Up ahead was the stone wall around the back of the farm. Tofia didn’t turn towards the gate. Instead he ran Nephi right towards it.

“Jump!” Tofia cried. The horse did jump, barely carrying them over the rocks. Nephi’s back hoofs hit the top of the wall, scattering some of the stones.

Aaron turned to see the Lamanite’s horse scale the fence easily. The man was not stopping.

“Hurry, Nephi, hurry!” Aaron yelled.

Nephi sped up for a few seconds and then slowed again. White foam was coming out of his mouth. “Aaron,” Tofia said, “do you have your knife?”

Aaron fumbled in his robes with one hand, grabbed his knife, and handed it to Tofia. It looked small, very small compared to the axe in the man’s hand. “What are you going to do?” Aaron asked.

“Maybe this will scare him off,” Tofia said. He turned and raised the knife. Aaron had never seen Tofia’s face look so stern.

The man did not respond; he only kept chasing them, an he was still gaining. Aaron felt thirsty. His lips were dry.

“He’s going to reach us,” Tofia said. “If he kills Nephi, we’ll never warn anyone. We can’t get there in time on foot.”

Aaron turned to look at the man again. He was only a few horse lengths behind them. Aaron could hear the other horse’s breathing. They were still a half mile from the farm house–the man would reach them before they could reach Father.

Tofia grabbed Aaron’s hand and put in on the horse’s mane. “You ride. I have to slow him down. It’s our only choice.”

Before Aaron could say anything, Tofia raised his foot to the horse’s back. With a yell he leapt back, brandishing the knife.

Nephi leapt forward under the reduced load. Behind him, Aaron heard cries and then screams. He didn’t look back.

The farm house came into view. He couldn’t hear the other horse behind him anymore. The house grew larger and larger. Father was walking up the path carrying food from the market. For a moment, Aaron wondered if Father would be upset about Nephi. Then he realized Tofia was right, the horse and the race didn’t matter any more.

20: All My Love, Rekenah

March 27, 1939

Clarissa, my angel,

The best mind in ancient languages, if I must say it myself, has been hard at work uncovering a precious history of romance and adventure for your enjoyment! You’ll recall that a two thousand-year-old treasure of perfectly preserved letters was found in an old clay vessel, stashed in a cave with other relics in what is now Belize. You are the first to read it, my love, translated with my usual flair (I don’t have to be humble with you, after all, Clarissa, you know me better than I do myself!). You may determine that this is the most marvelous tale of love and faith on which you have ever feasted.

Your adoring,


My Dearest Rekenah:

All is well in the land of Ishmael. The king has accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ in a miraculous manner. I send my love to you and our small ones.

Your devoted husband,


My Darling,

(Actually, Clarissa, the exact translation of the term of endearment used by Ammon and his wife is “pressed close to my heart,” or “dearest to my heart.” Therefore whenever you see ‘darling’ or ‘dearest,’ you can mentally insert that rather more poetic phrase. You may return to Rekenah’s letter, forgive the interruption.)

In the three summers since we wed, you have been gone nearly two, and I’m afraid I find you a dreadful correspondent. If it is to be our lot to be separated so that you can proclaim the gospel to the Lamanites, I must beg you to include more details when you write!

After receiving your brief letter yesterday, I was visited by Bolteshah, the wife of your faithful friend and companion in the mission field. Zoram apparently had a great deal more to say about the “miraculous manner” in which King Lamoni accepted the gospel.

I was shaken and terrified to hear that you faced a band of ferocious Lamanite bandits alone, single-handedly killing seven of them and wounding many more. Yes, I realize that it was the Spirit of God that aided and protected you, and thank the heavens for that, because you are good, my dearest heart, but you are not THAT good!

And what an absolutely brutal manner for the Lord to show his power through you! It must have been the only way to soften the heart of a king whose people are so hardened and wild, and I trust in the Lord and His purposes, but I cannot help but shudder when I think of the bundle of bloody arms that were laid at the feet of the king.

My darling, please be careful. And I know you wish to save me from worry, but you will remember that I much prefer to swallow the bitter herb of truth right away, than feast on sweet honey while that herb grows large enough to choke me!

Your little Gideon takes great care of Rekiah and me, bringing me little things from the garden as I prepare dinner, and helping me wind yarn when a day of weaving begins. They kneel each night to ask Father in Heaven to protect their dear Papa.

All my love,


My Dearest Rekenah:

The King’s household has been converted. The Lord is in this work, and His hand has been manifest in a most astonishing way.

I send you my love, and two children, orphaned by my hand during the skirmish to protect the king’s flocks. Love them as you do our own, my dearest.

Your devoted husband,


My Darling,

What a gift, to send me two children with your letter! I cannot say that I was pleasantly surprised. Indeed, it is not easy to support our small family with my weaving, and an addition of two more mouths to feed was not what I expected when I opened the door to receive Zoram, whom I knew had been just at your side. (How delighted Bolteshah was to greet her husband, even if it was for a few days only! I am trying not to envy her happiness!)

I was over my surprise and disappointment in a quick moment (truthfully, my sweet Clarissa, her exact words were “in a breath of wind,” a reference to the very rare breezes this people experienced in such a hot jungle climate), however, and found myself pleased to be helping you in your work in this small way, and to welcome to my bosom two children that had just been in yours. Makit (how many summers do you believe she is, dearest? Seven?), takes good care of her little brother, Lekonah, whom I guess to be around four summers old. She doesn’t speak much, except to Lekonah, and I find it difficult to understand their language, as it has been perverted from ours over the centuries.

You really have an appalling way of omitting important details, my love, and I was astonished to hear from Zoram that you would have been slain in the throne room by a vicious Lamanite, had the Lord not intervened, striking your would-be-attacker dead on the spot. I rejoice that the King’s family is baptized; I only wish the Lord would accomplish it without putting you in peril every second moon!

But forgive me, your wife does not doubt His promises nor His loving kindness. We kneel as always to offer thanks and plead for your safety. Makit watches as we pray, keeping her distance, but young Lekonah kneels with us, his interested black eyes always on my face.

All my love,


(Forgive me, Clarissa, but I should insert here that I can make no sense of their reckoning of dates; I really must call Phoebe at the university’s Department of Ancient Civilizations and beg her to enlighten me. Meanwhile, all I can tell you is that the letters appear to be written some four weeks apart according to our modern reckoning, with very likely nearly two months to get the letter from one party to the other. That’s all, my angel. Are you enjoying the enchanting story?)

My Darling,

There has been no letter from you for some time, and I would grow quite desperate except that Zoram writes, and Bolteshah reassures me that you are quite safe and busy with the work of the Lord. I beseech you, my dearest, to follow Zoram’s example and send your beloved wife a few words.

I do not wish to grieve you, but adding two Lamanite children to our family has not been without its problems. Makit will not speak to me at all, and when I try to interact with Lekonah in any way, she actually hisses at me! Yes, just like those dreadful green tree-hanging serpents that drop on careless hunters who neglect to search the treetops as they walk. She stares at me all day long with anger, or hatred, or some other black emotion, and rebuffs any kindness or attempt to communicate. I have spoken to the village schoolmaster, and will shortly have her enrolled. Maybe he can sort her out.

Lekonah, for his part, seems to like his new home, and plays sweetly with our little ones when Makit permits it, smiling shyly at me when his she is not looking. When we say our prayers at night, he has taken to climbing into my lap, his little face upturned and his soft hand on my cheek. Makit allows this because he sets to making a violent noise if she protests (“monkey howls,” were Rekenah’s words, referring to the dreadful simians of the native jungle, whose calls are so loud that they can be heard for 3 miles, dearest! I have been jolted from my cot at the sound, always startling me most aggravatingly from pleasant dreams of you. I can quite understand why Makit might yield to such a racket as that.), but the moment we conclude, she whisks him away again.

Ammon, I hesitate to bring it up, but with you gone, little things weigh on my mind. Bolteshah mentioned in passing that you had been offered the hand of a Lamanite princess when you first came into the court of King Lamoni. I wonder, with your wife so far away, was it a little tempting to accept?

All my love,


My Dearest Rekenah:

You have at last shamed me into a respectable letter. Forgive me for not writing more often and more explicitly, as you request. You know that I am less a man of words than a man of action.

The most beautiful Lamanite princess would not tempt me from the exquisite Nephite flower waiting for me in Zarahemla. My heart is yours, and can never be another’s.

(You will be very interested to know that “pelontira” is the word he used for flower, which if I understand my native guide, is a specific flower that has grown in this area for thousands of years. It is as lovely as an orchid, with delicate white petals, and the fragrance quite takes my breath away. But here is the surprise, Clarissa: the flower is most hardy. It may look like an orchid, but while that flower is confoundedly fickle about its growing environment, the sweet pelontira will stand drought, heat, and deluge. My dearest love, I believe our Ammon might have a bit of the poet in him, after all!)

I confess I was concerned that the king would kill the Nephite who rejected such a generous offer, but King Lamoni listened to my description of your beauty and character, and forgave his humble servant the offense. My love, I wear the jade pendant you pressed to your lips and lay at my heart the last time we parted. I press it to my own lips every night, along with the lock of your dark hair that is wound tightly round it. I think of you each time I lay down to rest, and pray continually for your welfare and the safety of our family.

The work progresses miraculously. Not only has King Lamoni’s kingdom largely been converted to the truth, but his Father, the King of all the Lamanite lands, desires to learn more about his son’s new faith. The power of God is indeed great.

Your devoted husband,


My Darling,

You relieved my mind greatly with your last letter. I am happy you have not forgotten your Rekenah, who thinks of you with much longing. When is your next visit to Zarahemla? Surely the mission can spare you for one cycle of the moon?

Makit still growls and glares at me, but she is at school much of the day. Her teacher tells me she has had no formal education at all, and cannot read or write, but that she is an apt student, who truly wants to learn. I am very encouraged by this news. Lekonah and I have become quite good friends now that Makit no longer interferes, and when he is not helping me with the household chores, or with my current weaving project, he is watching Gideon and Rekiah. They have adopted him as their affectionate older brother, but are rather afraid of Makit, and who can wonder! (Actually, Clarissa, strictly translated, she said “as little surprising as the sun rising,” but “who can wonder” is a more modern derivative of that sentiment.)

I have another small remonstrance to make, which is that you again neglected to give me even the most basic details of your latest adventure. Bolteshah reveals that you engaged this Great King of the Lamanite lands in a swordfight, to save the life of his son! As fond as I have grown for this King Lamoni through Zoram’s accounts of him, I beg you would not throw yourself in the path of a barbarian who would seek to kill his own child! Please consider that there are now five who count on your safe return.

I know that you follow the Spirit in the mission field, and would not unnecessarily put yourself at risk. But your wife has decided to petition Father in Heaven in a much more specific way when she asks for your safety—perhaps He will agree to keep you and sword-wielding savages in separate company!

All my love,


My Darling,

Truly, this habit of yours of keeping me in the dark (“Covering the lamps that illuminate,” more exactly translated. Is that not a lovely image, Clarissa?) is very tiresome. Aaron’s wife, Mashuel, visited me this morning and literally knelt on the ground and kissed my feet! Ammon, I had no idea what to think. Of course, I lifted her from her knees, but she commenced kissing my hands, all the while thanking me from her heart on behalf of her husband. When I finally got the story from her, I found that you had arranged Aaron’s release from a most brutal imprisonment.

It was no surprise to hear of your heroism, but I was quite disappointed to receive this news secondhand! Surely you could have foregone a little humility to tell your wife of this success, so she would know why her feet were bathed with tears on an ordinary workday morning.

Makit stole my best wooden bowl some moons ago, and used your finest carving blade to fashion it into an idol, like the sort her people worship. I found her kneeling before it one evening, when she thought I was in the garden, and could make out from my limited understanding of her language that she was asking it to take her and Lekonah from our home. I was furious to find the bowl I had been missing used for such a wicked purpose, and my first inclination was to really let her have it (“Roast her over the fire,” Clarissa! The language of this people sings, does it not?). But as I approached her, I felt impressed to move slowly, and kneel beside her. Instead of chastening her for stealing and defacing my bowl, I was moved to tell her the story of the Christ child that is to come, who would enter a world of people who would reject and despise him, and later kill him. She listened respectfully, then tucked her idol beneath her arm and carried it to her mattress beside her sleeping brother.

I don’t know, Ammon. Sometimes I think I make no progress with the child at all. Perhaps she came to us too late.

All my love,


My Dearest Rekenah:

The Lord has accomplished marvelous things among the Lamanites. After much labor, seven entire cities have accepted the truth and become members of the Church of Jesus Christ, renouncing the name of Lamanite and embracing a new one: Anti-Nephi-Lehies. More miraculously, they have made a solemn covenant to stain their swords no more with the blood of their brethren, and have buried their weapons in a pit as a sign of this oath.

Your devoted husband,


My Darling,

I was gratified to receive your letter and see that Father in Heaven has arranged for all swords to be buried, in response to my request to keep you from the point of one! But please don’t accuse me of light-mindedness, my love. I understand the sacredness of the oath of the People of Ammon. That is what the Anti-Nephi-Lehies are called by our people: the “People of Ammon.” Does this surprise you? It is a fitting tribute, I think, although I know you would disagree.

Makit has stolen the woven blanket I have just completed. I have no evidence it was she, of course, except that she has stolen little things from me since the beginning, no doubt imitating her thieving father. I am desperate to recover it. It took many moons to create and would have fed our family for twice as long.

Lakonah saw me weeping the morning I discovered it was missing, and crawled on my lap, placing his hand softly on my cheek. “Pray,” he said in our language. I could have kissed his sweet face for that counsel. We prayed together. Now we await our answer.

All my love,


My Darling,

Your little ones are well. Lakonah has grown big enough to fetch water from the spring, and he takes little Gideon with him. I have asked Makit to help me with the weaving, but she is reluctant and surly. This morning as we worked, she intentionally added the wrong threads twice, so that at last I dismissed her to go help her brother with the water.

I work late into the night on this new blanket, burning more oil than we can afford, trying to finish it more quickly. Lakonah has been more diligent than ever in helping me, but food is getting scarce. We pray every night for your safety and ours, with Lakonah offering it in his childish voice as often as me. Makit does not join us.

All my love,


My Darling,

I am beginning to worry for you. Even Zoram has stopped writing. We hear whispers in the city that the wicked Amalekites and Amulonites move against the defenseless People of Ammon, to destroy them. Others say the entire multitude of your converted Lamanites will soon be at our doors, seeking our protection. Please try to send us news..

I found two of my best jade necklaces missing this morning, treasures I had hoped to sell to buy food. Bolteshah has been this morning with half the milled corn she bought for her own family, but it won’t last long. Do you see, Ammon? I tell you these unpleasant truths, even if it worries you, because I would want to know them in your place. Are you well? Are you safe?

All my love,


My Dearest Rekenah,

I am safe. I am coming to Zarahemla. I will be there as quickly as we can travel through the wilderness. I am bringing several thousand of my dearest friends.

Your devoted husband,


(It appears, my dear Clarissa, that the next letter was never sent, although it was kept with the others that did traverse the deep jungles to get from one beloved companion to the other. According to a postscript, written by Rekenah, the long awaited return of her dear husband interrupted its posting.)

My Darling,

What joy your little family felt as we received your letter! Gideon and Rekiah squealed and clapped their little fat hands together, and Lakonah’s eyes shone like the sun at noon day. Even Makit looked our way with interest.

Makit may be softening toward us, just a little. The price of this new attitude was having my ears roasted off one morning, when the rain thundered down on our little roof and everyone felt a little gloomy. I had spoken sharply to her for dawdling with her breakfast, when she let loose a torrent of abuse as wild as the storm outside. We had killed her father, she screamed in a combination of her own language and ours, and kidnapped her from her own people, and her own gods! Furthermore, we had stolen records, valuables, and birthright from her ancestors, and she hated us for the Nephite dogs we were!

After her tirade, the house was quiet, three frightened children clinging to my legs, and one mother wishing she was much wiser and knew what to say. I expected her to run out, but instead she began weeping. Tears coursed down her anguished face, and it requires little wisdom to know that love is the best remedy for such sorrow. I held her as she sobbed and shook in my embrace, until the rain let up and her shoulders were at last still. Finally, she broke away, put on a wrap, and stepped outside without another word to any of us. I didn’t see her again all day, but when I returned from visiting Bolteshah with the children, I found my blanket and jewelry, neatly arranged on my bed.

Your family has food to eat, and a new beginning with your oldest daughter. We await your return anxiously and with much prayer.

All our love,


A tender story, and I myself may have wept a tear or two at its conclusion. But, Clarissa, do you worry about Makit? Does the tale of the little orphan girl end well? I have determined for my part to believe that it does, and I’m sure you will agree with me, as we are of one mind where love and happy endings are concerned. I send you my heart, dearest, with this little story, and will join you both as soon as I can.

Your adoring,


19: :Battle at Sebus

“Help! Come quick and help me!” shouted Mulek.

His life long friend and cousin, Aaron, looked over at him and shook his head. At fourteen, Mulek stood only a little over five-feet-tall and it was doubtful he would grow much beyond that. Aaron, at fifteen, was also small of stature.

“I told you not to bring that thing with you,” said Aaron. “You’ll just get yourself in trouble.” Aaron started to get up from where he had been sitting, looking at the blue-green waters of Sebus, one-hundred feet below, and watching Mulek’s brethren who rested there in the shade of the bushes.

Aaron stuck his hands on his hips, “Now look. You’ve got your father’s sword stuck into a tree and can’t get it out.”

It reminded Mulek of the many times his mother had corrected him, and Mulek gave his friend an annoyed look. “I can get it out if you help me. Now grab hold and we’ll both pull.”

Gripping the hilt of the heavy sword, the young men tugged and struggled to free the weapon whose point was deeply wedged into the center of a large tree. Both tumbled to the ground as the sword flew from their hands and spun in the air, the sunlight gleaming off it.

The boys remained where they landed and laughed. Punching his cousin in the arm, Mulek said, “See, I told you we could get it out.”

As they sat in the sun with the thick humidity seeping into their bodies, Aaron rested back onto his elbows. After a couple of minutes he spoke. “Seriously Mulek, why did you bring that thing out here?”

“You know I want to join my family’s army. Our linage should be in control of the government. You’ve heard my father speak of it many times and if you had a father, you’d understand.” Mulek regretted the words as soon as they left his lips. He gazed at Aaron to see what damage he’d done, but Aaron sat silent.

Pressing on, Mulek said, “Aaron, I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just that you’ve been raised by your Aunt Abish ever since your father and mother died from the plague when you were two years old. Everyone knows Abish is for King Lamoni. She even works in his palace.”

This had been a sore spot between them over the years. Mulek’s family believed they should control the throne and took great pleasure in embarrassing the king whenever they could. There’d even been talk of a rebellion.

Aaron continued to gaze out into the distance, watching a group heading their flock towards the water below.

“Listen, Aaron. You’ve even told me that your aunt’s father had a strange vision. She hasn’t been right since. I mean, she doesn’t even hate the Nephites.”

Aaron turned and with a soft expression said, “I don’t hate them, either.”

Mulek jumped to his feet, his mouth drawn into a tight line and his face flushed. “Well, I do!” Looking for the sword and finding it, he hefted it to his shoulder with the flat of the blade against his bare, brown skin. “They are murderers and they lie about our people. They steal from us and took our birthright long ago.” Mulek began walking back towards a small sapling with a few leafy branches sticking out.

Aaron waved a hand of dismissal. “You just say that because your family says that.” He went back to looking at the group in the distance as they got closer. He didn’t appear upset with Mulek’s sudden rage and apparently was all too familiar with his younger cousin’s temper.

Mulek, busy swinging the big sword as if he were in some great battle, managed to hack off a few of the tree’s tender branches before the weight of the weapon caused his arms to ache. Dragging it behind him, he walked over and sat next to his cousin.

“Aaron, I know you are a kind-hearted person and you have a belief in God. We’ve talked about it many times, but it’s hard for me to go against my family. My father has always hated the Nephites.” Mulek looked at the ground and flipped dirt clods with his fingers.

Aaron didn’t answer; his coal black eyes continued watching the group of men who were now a stone’s throw away from the water. They were close enough he could see the band was the king’s men with a flock of animals needing to be watered. And leading them was a Nephite!

Mulek looked at his cousin, “Aren’t you going to say something?”

Aaron pointed towards Mulek’s brethren who were now standing and gathering as they, too, watched the band approaching. “What do you make of this, Mulek?”

As they watched, Mulek’s brethren scattered the king’s flock and laughed as animals ran in all directions.

In a short time, the king’s men gathered the animals together and the Lamanites stood again to scatter them, but now the Nephite came forward.

“Look Mulek, they are trying to hit him with rocks, but they keep missing.” As they watched, several of the men fell dead as the Nephite used his sling to cast stones back at them.

“You just wait,” Mulek said as he leaned forward to watch the fight, anger welling up within him. “He’ll get his soon enough.”

Just then, a large number of the men charged the Nephite, but as they raised their clubs to strike him, the Nephite swung his sword and cut off their arms. Soon, arms lay scattered upon the ground and men halted trying to decide whether to continue the fight or flee.

“That’s enough!” Mulek screamed. “He’s going to pay for this.” He jumped to his feet in a rage, grabbed the sword and began to race towards the conflict.

“No Mulek, wait!”

Aaron’s words had no impact as Mulek ran as fast as he could down the hillside towards the water’s edge and then into the battle. His heart pounded in his chest as he gulped large quantities of air and focused all his attention upon reaching the Nephite and killing him. Sweat ran down his face and arms reaching his hands, making the weapon difficult to hold.

He was close now, only fifteen yards away. Mulek did not notice that the other men were running back to their village. He yanked the sword up over his head preparing to have it come crashing down upon the invader, but he didn’t see a rock lying in his path. His foot struck it and losing his balance, Mulek lost control of the sword. Falling face first in the dirt, he slid up to the feet of the Nephite warrior, and the sword clattered to the side, several feet away.

Mulek coughed and chocked on the dust mixed with his sweat. He wiped his eyes with both hands trying to see. Finally, he managed to look up at the large man standing directly above him, holding a sword at the ready.

Mulek braced for the inevitable slashing which would take his life. Yet, it did not come. As his vision sharpened, he looked into the face of the warrior who had lowered his sword and was now peering down at him.

Confused, Mulek remained frozen where he was. Then he witnessed a change in the man. Looking into warm brown eyes, he saw a face which showed great compassion towards him, and then he heard him speak.

“You are a brave young man. I am not here to kill men, but to save them.” The Nephite warrior extended his hand to Mulek and helped him to his feet. “Go to your family and tend to the wounded. You will be of much help to them. Through you, they will be healed.” He smiled gently, turned and walked back towards the flock.

Watching him leave, Mulek was struck with a flood of emotions. This Nephite could have killed him, but he didn’t. In fact, he was kind to him. Mulek felt something else too—a warm feeling which flooded over his entire body and with it, he lost all desire for violence.

Aaron came running up beside him. “Are you OK?” .

“Yes,” Mulek said softly, continuing to stare at the departing Nephite.

“Did he talk to you?”

“Yes,” Mulek said in a voice no louder than a whisper.

Aaron tugged Mulek’s arm. “Come on, let’s go.”

They turned and walked off together leaving the sword lying on the ground where it had fallen.

Sitting under the shade of a tree near the water’s edge, Aaron tended to the numerous cuts on Mulek’s face from his dirt slide. Afterwards, Mulek rose to go help his injured brethren, when both of them saw the king’s men picking up the bloody arms and piling them into a cart used to carry injured animals.

“Now what do you think they are up to?” Mulek said.

Aaron remained silent as he tried to figure out what the men were doing. The cart swayed back and forth as the procession of men, animals and arms made its slow progress back to the king’s palace.

“I say we follow them,” said Aaron. Mulek’s eyes widened with surprise as he looked at his older cousin. “I say we follow them and see what they are up to.” Aaron spoke as if the matter had been decided.

“I have to go and check on my brethren first,” Mulek spoke painfully through a cracked lip.

“OK, I’ll go with you and then we’ll follow.” Both nodded their heads and then ran to Mulek’s home to see what they could do to help.

Late the next day, the two cousins stopped at the Waters of Sebus to figure out which direction they should go. It wasn’t a difficult question. The path carved out by the number of men and animals left a visible mark upon the land. Together they began the process of trailing the king’s men.

“I’m glad we waited until today to follow them.” Mulek rubbed his sore and bruised shoulder.

“Why is that?”

“Well, can you imagine the dust we’d be eating if we trailed immediately after them?” Mulek smiled as he spoke. His knowledge came from being at the tail end of large hunting trips with his family in the past.

The trail they followed was strewn with crushed earth, waste of all kinds and even an occasional human arm which had bounced out of the cart. This reassured them that they were, in fact, following the right path and they soon entered the midst of a teeming city.

“The landof Ishmael,” Aaron said.

Merchants lined the streets peddling their wares. Beggars sat along the pathways to the more prominent buildings. The smells and noise of the city were bothersome to Mulek, but Aaron seemed right at home.

“Come on. Let’s get over to my aunt’s house,” he said as he motioned for Mulek to follow him.

They arrived at the small one room enclosure near the large palaceof King Lamoniand overheard a murmur going through the crowd. An old man with no teeth and rags wrapped about his head ran up to them and in a raspy voice said, “The king is dead. The Nephite killed King Lamoni.”

The two boys tumbled across the entryway into the home of Abish. Neither spoke a word but listened to the rumblings of the city as they questioned within themselves what this could mean.

The next morning, Aaron was busy trying to fix them something to eat when Mulek asked, “Where is your aunt?”

“I have no idea. She should be home, but I guess things are too busy at the palace for her to return.”

After a small meal, they both walked out into the streets by the palace where Mulek saw several of his brethren. He ran to them and asked, “What are you doing here?”

A large dark man with a scruffy bead answered, “Mulek, come stand with your brethren. We are going to seek justice. We’ve heard the king is dead and we will claim our birthright. We will rule the landof Ishmael.” With this the man raised his fist into the air. In so doing, his uplifted arm caused his tunic to part, exposing a sword he had tied close to his waist. Looking around, Mulek noticed all his brethren were angry and carried weapons.

Throughout that day, Mulek’s brethren stood outside the palace, shouting for the king to come forward, grabbing others who stood in the street, and telling them they were the true rulers of the land. Their intimidation worked as several people chose to stand with them and yell for the king to give an accounting of the men killed by the Nephite.

They continued this activity well into the night before seeking shelter. Mulek stayed with them, but did not say much. Instead, he spent his time pondering all the events of the past few days. He was especially lost in thought about the encounter he had with the Nephite warrior. He wasn’t sure when it happened, but at some point his wondering turned into prayer. And then he fell asleep.

The next morning, Abish dashed into her little home.

“Aaron. I’m glad you’re back. Quickly, come with me to the palace. I can get you in. We must gather the people; God has performed a great work,” she said grabbing some fruit to eat as she started back out the door. Aaron didn’t even have time to finish his yawn before he was also out the door trying to catch up with Abish. Aaron worried about Mulek, because he knew he’d gone to join with his brethren, and it was not a comforting thought.

Entering the palace, Aaron saw a scene of confusion. In the great hall that was used to greet guests and pronounce judgments, the king’s servants milled about speaking with one another. Suddenly, on the far side of the hall, several men with weapons drawn dashed in, followed closely by Mulek, as he tried to catch up to the leader.

In the middle of the great hall, King Lamoni, his queen, and the Nephite all lay prostrate on the ground, as if dead.

Aaron grabbed his aunt’s shoulder. “Aunt Abish—“

She stopped him and turned to face him. Holding both his hands in hers, she looked deep into his eyes and spoke. “Aaron, my son, they are not dead, but they sleep in God. It is a marvelous work He has performed. You will see. Be patient and watch.” Abish put an arm around Aaron as they both knelt to pray.

A large man wielding a beautifully engraved sword screamed, “I’ll kill the Nephite devil,” as he ran across the room towards the prostrate figures at the center. “This is the fiend who killed and injured many of my brethren. I’ll slay him and be your king,” he proclaimed as he stopped near the prone figure of the Nephite.

Abish squeezed Aaron’s arm and whispered, “God will not allow Ammon to be slain. Have faith and believe.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Aaron saw Mulek running towards the confusion at the center of the hall. As he ran, Mulek shouted, “No! Stop! Don’t kill the Nephite!”

The large Lamanite raised his sword high into the air and as he prepared to thrash it across the back of Ammon’s neck, the Lamanite gave a gasp and fell backwards. The sword clanged harmlessly upon the rock floor.

Mulek skidded to a halt, staring at his dead brother. Tears welled in his eyes, but not of anger; tears of sorrow, for he knew his brother had been wrong.

The crowds from the street had crammed into the hall and were yelling back and forth—some crying Ammon was the devil and others saying he was the Great Spirit.

Abish got up from her knees and pulled on Aaron’s arm to follow her. She went to the queen and lifted up her hand and immediately the woman arose. The queen clasped the king’s hand and he arose. Calling for silence, both addressed the people and told them of the marvelous workings of God. At the same time, Ammon stood and as he did, he looked at both Mulek and Aaron on either side of him.

Ammon placed his strong arms around both boys and praised them for their faith in God. Then he looked directly into Mulek’s eyes and said, “My son, this day thou art born anew. Follow God and in that way you will heal your wounded brethren.”


In the bright sunlight of a beautiful new morning, Mulek wadded into the turquoise water until he reached the spot where Aaron stood waiting for him. The wet coolness refreshed his body just as the Spirit refreshed his soul.

On the shore a large number of people witnessing the baptism stood smiling at him, including Abish, and many wiped away tears of joy. Yet, not one of his brethren were there. Mulek knew he was now an outcast with his family, but the strength of his testimony and support of his fellow believers sustained him.

He went to live with Aaron and Abish as he studied and learned the gospel. Eventually, the day arrived when Mulek and Aaron left as missionaries to travel across the land, converting many of their fellow Lamanites. Over time, some of Mulek’s brethren did join the church and Mulek understood Ammon’s prophecy had been fulfilled—he’d healed the wounded hearts of his brethren.

18: Gideancum’s Revenge

by Wm Morris

Gideancum, the youngest son of Pahoran the First, quietly nestled further into the dried maize piled up in the portico of a large storehouse just inside the southern wall of the city of Zarahemla. The Lamanite soldiers with their torches and cimeters swarmed like angry hornets through the streets of the city. They had appeared out of nowhere in the night, surprising and making short work of the guards at the main city gate. They had stormed through the streets, killing any who did not immediately bow down and ask for mercy. Some Nephites had fled the city, slipping out through secret ways in the confusion, but the Chief Judge Pacumeni, his older brother, had been too surprised to rally his household and make any sort of defense and too confused to think of the secret ways or some other clever plan. So they had all run for the back gate, the few household guards bringing up the rear. Growing up, Gideancum had listened to the stories of Captain Moroni and his chief captains. Sometimes he had even heard them told from the great men themselves. He had memorized every battle, every tactic, every trick. He knew a panicked retreat was a recipe for disaster and so, as the Chief Judge Pacumeni, his older brother, rushed through the chaotic streets of Zarahemla, Gideancum stole away and found this hiding place amidst the maize.

He doubt his absence had been noticed. Although he was 15 and almost a man, Gideancum was small of stature and, as the youngest of the many sons of Pahoran, he was also the least important. No one had put his name up for election. No one had approached him with whispered promises of power. Not that it mattered. Gideancum was strongly devoted to his older brothers, in spite of their many faults and frequent arguments. He had been raised by them and their wives. Moroni had called him Gideancum the boy of many parents, the son of liberty. It was a jest, of course. But he had fiercely embraced the designation. At age 7, he had memorized the words of the title of liberty. At age 9, he had taken to lecturing the others on the virtues of Mosiahic form of government and the problems with monarchy. His father had counseled him to be more diplomatic in his politicking. The next time he had seen Moroni, he had asked him about that particular piece of advice. Moroni had said, “If I had been more diplomatic, the title of liberty would not now be flying over the cities of the land — but you should listen to your father. There may come a time when diplomacy serves you better than courage and might.”

Captain Moroni had been one of the few of his father’s circle who would taken the time to talk to him. He had also been one of the few willing to tell him stories of his mother. Gideancum’s heart twinged amidst its heavy pounding. Not for the first time, he wished that his mother had not died bringing his spirit in to this world. He knew that it was only her mortal body that was dead and that her spirit lived on and would someday be restored in glory forever. But a mother who was a spirit was small comfort to a boy whose father and siblings had been constantly preoccupied with governing the land.

Now, his only thought was to survive the marauding Lamanites. It was dark in this part of the city. Gideancum hoped that the storehouses and workshops would escape the attention of the blood-maddened Lamanite soldiers. The trick, though, would be in getting out of the city. He hoped that they would finish their foul work well before dawn so that he would still have the cover of darkness.

The maize had just been harvested and dried. Its sweet earthy smell filled his nostrils. He sank in further, leaving only his eyes and nose exposed to the air. The shouts and cries and clashing of metal had been far away when he had selected this spot, but now they seemed closer. Then he heard footsteps and the Chief Judge Pacumeni, his older brother, limped in to view. His robes of office were torn and spattered with blood. Only two of his household guards remained to protect him. They were bleeding from many wounds.

Gideancum dared not cry out.

In his haste, Pacumeni tripped. He reached out his hand to steady himself against the city wall. The guards rushed to help him, but the split second pause was all their pursuers needed. Several Lamanite soldiers appeared, surrounded the trio, and disarmed the guards. One of them yelled out, “Coriantumr!”

A large man, one of the largest Gideancum had ever seen, strode in to view. He wore the war paint and gold armbands of a Lamanite chief captain even though his face and hair marked him as a Nephite. In one hand he held a massive war club as easily as if it were a stick. He swung it lightly as he walked. The Lamanite soldiers parted so their leader could approach Pacumeni, who fell to his knees, his hands clasped, pleading. Gideancum couldn’t hear what his brother was saying. Coriantumr laughed. His voice was deep and bitter. He gestured for Pacumeni to rise and turned as if to leave. Pacumeni stood. In one fluid motion, Coriantumr spun around and smote Pacumeni’s chest with his club. Gideancum watched silently as Pacumeni was lifted off his feet by the blow and thrown back against the wall. Coriantumr turned and walked back towards the sounds of war. The soldiers picked up Pacumeni’s body, bound the two remaining guards and followed.

Gideancum dared not move. Growing up, he had been fascinated by tales of war. Now, seeing the stories made real, his respect for Moroni and Teancum and Helaman’s stripling sons grew. He felt sadness over the loss of his brother. But he also felt other things. Shame over his helplessness to prevent what had just happened. Anger over the Nephite army’s inability to prevent the taking of Zarahemla. And most of all — hate for this Nephite traitor Coriantumr. Revenge crept in to his heart.

When he was sure that no Lamanites were near, Gideancum emerged from the pile of maize. He could think of no means of escape. He scooped several handfuls of maize up with his shirt and stole in to the storehouse.

For the next day and night, Gideancum lived in the storehouse. He gnawed on the dried kernels of maize and scurried out after dark to drink water from a nearby puddle. Other than his clothes, his only possession was a beaded bag containing a gold ring set with an emerald that had belonged to his mother.

Gideancum brooded over his situation. The hours passed by as if a dream. He began to develop elaborate plans to wreak his revenge on Coriantumr. No one knew the chief judge’s complex like he did. No one had had the combination of free reign and free time that he had had. Spying on meetings and discovering hidden or out-of-the-way places and passages had been his primary pasttime and education. Not only that, but he knew where Helaman kept the relics and sacred possessions. He had been shown them once and had stolen in to look at them at other times. Helaman was not in the city, having left on one of his frequent missions several weeks before. Gideancum could sneak in to his study, take the sword of Laban from its hiding place, and… For some reason, his mind could only flash from the taking of the sword to the moment of glory when his remaining brothers and the Nephite chief captains would raise their voices in unison to praise his victory. Such glory tantalized him, tempted him. It begin to ring incessantly in his mind. But he found himself too scared and uncertain to carry out his plans. The feelings of shame grew. As did the raging desire for revenge.

On the morning of the second day, Gideancum heard movement outside the storehouse. He quickly hid himself deep in the far corner behind a large basket.

A Nephite entered and began looking in the baskets and jars in the storehouse. Many of them were empty, waiting to be filled with the dried maize outside. Gideancum prayed in his head, his lips barely moving. He didn’t know if he wanted to be found by this Nephite man or not. He prayed that God would provide the best outcome. He prayed he would not die. And in his praying, realized that he hadn’t prayed since before the Lamanite attack. When the man got to the back of the storehouse, he paused, and then turned and walked out. Gideancum let out a deep breathe. He stayed hidden. He didn’t know what to do now. Would the man come back? Most likely. It was clear that he had been inventorying the contents of the storehouse. If he came back, should he try to talk to him? His mind was confused, but something told him to stay put. So he did.

About 15 minutes later, two men — both dressed as Nephites — stepped in to the storehouse. One of them was the man from before. The other man picked up a jar and carried it outside. The first man walked directly towards Gideancum. He crouched in front of the basket. “Little man,” he whispered. “I know who you are. It came to me all at once as I saw the top of your head. You are one of the Chief Judge’s sons.” Gideancum turned his head slightly, but did not look at the man. “Do not say anything,” said the man. “Do not move. It does not matter if you are or not, God has led me to you, and I will help you be free. I am going to leave now and make sure our new Lamanite masters do not come in. Climb in to the basket and make yourself small.” The man picked up two smaller baskets and took them outside.

Gideancum climbed in to the basket. He wasn’t sure if he was doing so out of faith or fear or because his desire for revenge was making him reckless. He curled up and hoped that these men knew what they were doing. A short while later, the basket was lifted and carried and set down. The coming down part just felt like an inch or two so it seemed likely that it had been placed in a cart or sledge. The top of the basket came off and before Gideancum could look up, a small blanket was pushed down around him and he heard and felt maize fall over the blanket. He heard talking, some of it harsh and loud, but the shape of the words were muffled. And then he felt motion. It was slow but steady. The sounds of feet and male voices and animals were soon all around him. Gideancum fell asleep.

When he woke up, his body was stiff and sore, his throat raw and tight. Thankfully, not too long afterward, he heard the lid of the basket come off. A hand grasped a corner of the blanket. Gideancum was pulled from the basket. It was a very dark night. He could not see. He was carried for many yards and then placed carefully in a small hollow in the ground that was well hidden by tall grass. A skin of water was thrust in his arms. A blanket was thrown over him again. The man who had carried him bent and whispered, “Drink and recover. You must not leave this hiding place until well after dawn. It is now just two hours after dark. The moon will not be bright tonight so if you stay still and have luck, you will not be noticed. May God be with you.” The man walked back the way they had come.

Gideancum slowly, carefully stretched his arms and legs. He drank from the skin. And then waited. At some point during the night he slept again. When dawn came he stayed hidden. He knew that supply wagons generally traveled close to the back so assuming they broke camp at dawn and resumed the march, they should be well away from his position soon. When the sun rose higher in the sky, he ventured his head up out of the hollow. He could see no one. He stood up and surveyed the landscape. It was familiar to him. He was half a day’s journey north of Zarahemla. He wanted to track the army, wanted to keep his enemy close, but he had no food. There was a small village close to the west that had been established to serve the shepherds and their families who tended the flocks that supplied much of the city’s wool and meat. He finally entered the village at mid-afternoon. It was strangely silent. The street was empty. He decided to search the nearest home. The door was already broken in, the place ransacked. Clearly, Coriauntumr knew of the village and had sent a raiding party.

He finally found them in the next to last house. They were alive, hidden in a cellar. Just the women, children and old people. One of the women explained that they had seen the army from afar. The men had told the women to hide and had gone to warn other villages and rally defenders to slow the Lamanite’s progress. No one had expected them so deep in Nephite territory. Later that evening the few would-be defenders who had survived the slaughter returned, joyous to see their loved ones had not been found, sorrowful over their brethren who did not return with them, frustrated and scared by their powerlessness in the face of such an overwhelming threat to the land.

Gideancum felt sorry for those who had gone the way of all the earth even though he also thought they had been foolish to throw away their lives in such pathetic defenses. Better to retreat or hide. Only an army of close to equal size to Coriantumr’s could face it on an open battlefield. Not for the first time that day, he wondered where the Nephite army was and how its captains could leave the land so defenceless. To let the Lamanites strike the very center of the land. It was a major tactical blunder. Chief Captain Moroni would never have allowed such a thing.

When the mourning was done, Gideancum approached the men. He told them who he was and questioned them about the Lamanite army — the direction it had been heading, the number of troops, how fast they seemed capable of traveling and how much distance they put between the main body of the soldiers and their supply wagons. Their answers were confused. They did not seem to trust him. He took his mother’s ring from the bag around his neck and showed it to them. He claimed to be representing his brother and said he had been returning from a secret mission when the Lamanites attacked Zarahemla. The lie did not bother him. He was only driven by his vow to revenge himself upon the Lamanite leader. He told them that their only hope now was to gather as much information as possible on the Lamanites and make sure that the Nephite army became aware of the invasion and was on the march. The men talked quietly amongst themselves. Then they went and talked to their wives and mothers.

One of them returned and said, “We will help you. Sleep tonight, and you will have more answers tomorrow. My name is Amnor. I am sorry we doubted you at first.”

The next morning, a few of the men had returned with others residents of the area. Gideancum collected information from each of them indvidually and in private, carefully questioning them to make sure they were not exaggerating or holding something back. He had nothing to write with but as he sorted through the details, he developed a picture in his head. After the initial round of interviews, Gideancum sought out Amnor and told him they needed to get closer to the Lamanite army and collect better information. Amnor agreed. The two of them traveled north.

By afternoon, they had found more failed defenders of the land who had managed to not be cut down by Lamanite swords. After debriefing them, Gideancum calculated that they were about half a day away from the Lamanite army. He also figured that the army would need to camp tonight in order to not outrun its supply train. He told Amnor to send any men away who weren’t willing to risk their lives for they were going to press ahead and get as close to the Lamanites as possible. A few men left; four stayed, including Amnor.

Just before dusk, they caught up with the Lamanite army, which was beginning to set up camp. Luckily, they were camping in a large, shallow valley, which meant Gideancum and his men had the cover of a low, lightly forested hill. As torches began to be lit in the camp below, Gideancum identified what was likely the main command tent. In whispers, he asked them help him sneak in to the camp later that night and kill Coriantumr. It suddenly occurred to him to ask about weapons. Between them, they only had two knives, several slings and a small axe. As they examined their weapons and quietly discussed the details of the plan, there was a sudden crackle of movement. Gideancum and his men looked up — they were surrounded by soldiers with drawn swords and bows. The men dropped their weapons. One cried out. The soldiers hushed them. They were Nephites. Gideancum started to say something, but a hand was put over his mouth. He and his men were marched south by the Nephite soldiers for quite some time before their leader stopped and questioned them. Gideancum explained that they had been gathering information on the Lamanite army and that he had important things to discuss with their commanding officer. He did not mention the plan to kill Coriantumr.

The leader explained that they were scouts attached to the army of Captain Moronihah. He said that he would be happy to relay any information they had to his commanding officer. Gideancum refused. He said that he would only report to Captain Moronihah. This news was met with laughter. Gideancum insisted. He explained who he was. He showed them his mother’s ring. He intimated that he had secret information that only Moronihah should know. He would not have his chance for revenge stolen from him. Not when he was this close. Not when the arrival of the Nephite army opened up new possibilities.

In the three hours it took for the Nephite scouts and Gideancum and his recruits to travel to the Nephite camp, Gideancum wheedled and bargained and finally got the captain of the scouts to agree to give a message to Captain Moronihah. He waited another hour in the camp before a soldier came and escorted him to the chief captain’s tent and led him inside.

Moronihah sat in a large wooden chair covered with animal skins. He did not rise when Gideancum entered. He looked tired. Nevertheless, he smiled warmly, and said:

“Gideancum. I’m happy to see that you live. I am sorry about what happened to your brother. I hear you have news for me.”

“Thank you, Chief Captain Moronihah,” said Gideancum. He had had time to think about this conversation and had decided to speak from a position of authority and strength. “It has indeed been a sad time for me, but as I’m sure you have been informed, I have not wallowed in grief or fear, but have boldly and cleverly acted to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Lamanite army. I deeply appreciate you taking the time to see me. I know you are very busy although I am not certain why you are not now on the march to engage the Lamanites. They are weary from their fast travels and overconfident by their easy success so far. But that does not matter. Far be it for me to counsel you in the art of making war. I have only come to ask you a favor for I have a bold plan that will provide you a great advantage on the field of battle and that I am certain I can carry out. Grant me this one boon and you will prove the respect you have for my family and the memory of my father and brothers, and in return, I will ensure your victory over the Lamanites. Indeed, I was just about to carry this plan out when your scouts interrupted me and my men and brought us here.”

Moronihah sighed. “What is it you desire to do?”

“Provide me with a small, fast-traveling escort. I will scout and infiltrate the Lamanite army’s camp, my escort will silently take care of the guards, I will enter his tent and drive a javelin through Coriantumr’s heart just like my name-progenitor Teancum did to Ammoron,” Gideancum said.

“Your name-progenitor. Or, more precisely, your half name-progenitor was killed because he was foolish enough to let wrath cloud his judgement,” was the reply.

“He died in glory! He was revenged upon the Lamanites and sent their army in to disarray! I only seek the same revenge!”

“And even in their disarray, many died on both sides in the battle that followed.” Moronihah sighed again. “You know as well as I do, that cutting off the head does no good. It is, at best, only a short-term solution. A new Lamanite military leader always arises in the previous one’s place and agitates them to war against us anew.”

Upon hearing this Gideancum grew angry.

“You talk to me of short-term solutions when an army ravages the land? Any solution is better than none! And since we seem to be debating war strategies: how could you allow an entire army to strike at the very center of the land? Why, now that you are aware of the situation, have you set up camp? Why are you not pursuing Coriantumr and wreaking upon him the destruction he and his army deserve? Need I remind you of the words of your own father? Why sit you here upon your throne of stupor?”

At these words, Moronihah’s guards move to restrain the boy, but the chief captain waved them off. “You speak boldly, but do you possess more than zeal? If we would discuss strategy, then let’s hear first your report on the situation. You say you have gathered information — let’s have it. What happened in Zarahemla and what can you tell me of this Coriantumr?”

Gideancum’s mind was flooding with words and emotions. He tried to think of how he should handle the situation. Part of him wanted to continue to rant, to let out all that he felt inside, but when he cleared that part of him away, he found a stronger part of his will, the part that had been forged all those years by his father and his brothers and all the men and women who had had a part in raising him, servants and leaders, merchants and diplomats, prophets and warriors. He closed his eyes for just a second and conjured up the mural he had been creating in his mind, and then he related all that had happened to him and all that he had found out from others. Drawing upon his experiences with the language of councils, he spoke with clarity, marking carefully which pieces of information were absolute fact, which were probably correct and which were mere speculations. He reported estimates of troops size, supply chains, and time lines. He discussed the effects of the resistance. He even ventured to speculate on the motivations of Coriantumr, his ultimate objectives and where the weaknesses in his strategy lay.

When he was done, Moronihah said: “Well done. This information is of use to me and you have proven yourself a capable son of liberty.”

Gideancum smiled for the first time in days. He felt a burden lift from his shoulders. But revenge was still in his heart. Moronihah gestured for him to step forward. He did.

“I cannot grant you your boon, but I would like to make a pact with you, Gideancum son of Pahoran.” Gideancum stood very still, unsure of where this was going. “I will promise you that I will slay this Coriantumr, drive his army from Nephite lands and retake Zarahemla, if you will promise me that you will not do anything foolish and that you will act as one of my message runners in the days ahead. What say you?”

“I will do my best, Captain Moronihah,” came the sullen reply. His revenge had been torn from his hands, but he knew there was nothing he could do. He was too small, too young and commanded no troops.

“Good,” Moronihah said. “I assure that all will be made clear in the day ahead. You are dismissed. Eat; sleep. You will need fresh legs if you are to serve me tomorrow.”

The next morning, Gideancum was instructed in his duties as a message runner by a young man only a few years older than him. He was then introduced to each of Moronihah’s captains, who quizzed him on the passcodes, military terms and names he would need to know. Gideancum recited everything perfectly and was gratified to see their skepticism quickly turn to grudging approval of this late addition to the ranks. The army moved out slowly, and it was not until early afternoon that they reached the hills surrounding the valley where the Lamanites had camped the night before. Coriantumr and his men were no longer there. The Nephites began to take positions along the hills and down their gentle slopes. Detachments were sent to the east and west to hide. Gideancum was stationed next to Moronihah at the top of the highest hill and was kept busy running back and forth with messages to tighten up lines or reorder the positions of archers and throwers.

At around mid-afternoon, Moronihah began to show signs of restlessness as did his troops. Gideancum felt itchy and sick with anticipation. As he looked out across the sea of Nephite soldiers, he was suddenly struck by how many of them could die. And then he realized how close he had been to sacrificing himself and the naive men he had recruited. He was not a soldier. He was not a Gideon or a Teancum. He resented this realization. It was yet another reminder of his youth and inexperience. It wasn’t fair. And part of him still thought that there had been a slight chance that he could have succeeded. But at the same time, he knew that he had been blinded by his lust for revenge. Suddenly, there was a shout as a mass of men crested the hill on the other side of the hill. They carried no banners, but it was clear that this was a remnant of Coriantumr’s army. They streamed over the hill and then, almost as one, they paused as they saw the army waiting for them on the other side of the valley. They did not turn to run. Driven on by their captains, they surged forward hoping to break through the Nephite lines.

Captain Moronihah gave the signal and the horns blared. His men moved forward to meet their foes on the field of battle. Arrows, stones and javelins began to fly and soon the air was filled with battle cries, dust and the sound of swords and clubs. The detachments on the flanks quickly poured in from the east and the west to cut off any hopes of retreat in those directions. And then the banners of the other Nephite army appeared and all was suddenly made clear to Gideancum. Moronihah had them surrounded. The Lamanite incursion would end in this valley. One of the Nephite captains gave Gideancum a message. He ran to deliver it. When he returned, Moronihah and his honor guard were no longer there. He looked out across the valley. The Nephite chief captain was leading a charge towards the center of the Lamanite army. Gideancum knew that if Coriantumr still lived, that that’s where he would be with his chief captains and leaders. Moronihah fought like how Gideancum had always imagined Captain Moroni had fought. How he had always imagined that he himself would one day fight. The Lamanite chief captains and leaders were soon overrun. The rest of the Lamanites quickly surrendered. It was exhilarating, but also sobering. God had been on their side. They had won. But many men had died.

Later, Gideancum was called to Moronihah’s tent. The Nephite chief captain did not rise to greet him. He sat in his chair, his garments and armor stained with sweat, dust and blood. There was a faraway look in his eyes.

“You performed well, today, young Gideancum,” he said, hoarsely. “You fulfilled your side of the pact. And I … I fulfilled mine. Coriantumr is dead. You have your revenge.”

Gideancum did not know what to say. It was what his heart had desired. But no longer. His revenge had bled out along with the lives of his fallen comrades. His brave fellow citizens and believers. They had given their lives for their God, their religion, their peace, their wives, and their children. If you are to shed blood, it must only be for a just cause and only if you are willing to lay down your life for its sake. This was the price of liberty. He was now willing to pay it himself one day.

17: Sacrifice

“This way,” Sarai whispered, pulling my hand.

“Are you sure?” I leaned up against the stone wall. I didn’t want to move. My heart was racing, and I was forgetting to breath.

“No. But we have to go. They’re going to find us.”

I took measure of her eyes. “The jungle?”

She nodded.

We crouched low and walked, balancing with our hands, toward an opening. The annona trees that marked the jungle’s border were over sixty yards away.

“We’ll never make it.” I grabbed Sarai’s hand and pulled.

She yanked free. “It’s the only chance we’ve got.”

Sarai gave my hand a squeeze and peered around the edge. She motioned with her finger, creeping forward on her knees. I inched up beside her. We clasped our trembling hands together and ran.

Half way to the trees we heard someone yell. “Stop!” We ran harder.

I glanced quickly over my shoulder. Two Lamanite soldiers were running after us. One with a spear raised over his head, the other with a sword.

“Essa. We’ve got to split up.” Sarai let go of my hand and ran to the east. I ran the opposite direction, taking one last look at her before the trees enveloped us.


The terrain was too rugged. My bare feet were cut and bleeding and he was gaining on me. In the distance I could see a cluster of trees and thick bushes. They were my only hope.

I ducked into the undergrowth, parting the limbs with my hands so I wouldn’t leave any tracks. I dropped to my knees and crawled to the center of the thick foliage and laid down, my face against the spongy dirt.

I could hear the heavy thumping of his feet. It grew louder and suddenly stopped. I held my breath.

“Run! Get out of here!” The scream came from somewhere behind me. In front of me, a laugh.

“Go ahead. Run.” I looked up through the bushes and found a dark face smiling at me.

I sunk farther into the ground, his face disappearing behind the leaves.

He walked closer, feeding his sword through the branches and pushing the tip into my neck. “To your feet!”

I sat up and pressed my trembling hands against my thighs. The edge of his sword on my throat raised me to my feet, followed by a sharp pinch and a warm trickle of blood running down my chest.

I had never seen a Lamanite this close before. My mother called them blood thirsty heathens. Evil creatures who took pleasure in murder. The sight of him sent a chill tingling through my body. His cold eyes were distinct against his dark skin. He had no hair and the only clothing he wore was a loin cloth that was stained with the same blood that covered his sword.

“Give me your hands.” He stabbed his sword into the ground and pulled a thin strand of rope from his belt.

I groaned in pain when he pinched my wrists together and I tried to pull away.

“Would you prefer I kill you?” His grip tightened.

I winced and relinquished my arms. He cinched the rope around my wrists, the stiff hairs from the cord burning and digging into my flesh.

He pulled his weapon from the ground and placed it back on my throat. “Are you going to give me any trouble?”

I shook my head.

“Good.” He grabbed my braid and tore me free of the bushes.

My foot caught in a thick root that snaked above the ground and I fell, the force jarring me free of him. I scrambled to my knees and tried to crawl.

“Move!” He kicked me in the back, slamming my head into the ground.

He clamped his hand around the base of my neck and squeezed. “Maybe I should kill you.” He hissed into my ear.

“No.” I shook my head. But I wasn’t sure if I meant it.

“That way.” He pointed with his sword. “If you slow me down. You’re dead.”


I was led to a small clearing where a handful of soldiers stood guard around four Nephite women. My captor spit in my face and shoved me in their direction.

“Just kill us and get it over with!” One of the woman screamed.

“Shut up!” A soldier said and lobbed a rock at her face. It hit its mark.

She pressed her bleeding eyebrow into her shoulder.

I looked away from her shuddering body and seated myself on the opposite side.

We sat like that for hours. The sun, unobstructed by clouds or any trees overhead, drained us of the ability to sweat, then baked our clothing to our parched skin. A constant flow of warriors and captives continued through the day and by dusk there were fifteen of us: women, children, even babies.

Night moved in quickly, following on the heels of a small host of soldiers from the main Lamanite army who bore news that the city had fallen and the Nephite army had fled to the northern lands.

There was no escape. We were flanked to the east and west by dense jungle and mountains. To the north laid the sea and our besieged city of Teancum. To the south, Lamanite territory.

There was really no question in my mind whether or not I was going to die. I somehow knew the answer and strangely felt at peace with it.

If I dwelt on the how to that question I could feel my stomach burn and panic threaten to take hold. I retreated into my memories, trying to relive a moment from a year ago. The day Moriancum asked me to be his wife.


The river felt good. Cooling my bare legs, but not making them any wetter. It was the hottest summer I could remember. Even my grandmother said she had never seen the heat like this. Though I wasn’t certain I trusted her eighty-year-old memory to retain anything before breakfast.

It rained all the time. Not heavy drops, just a constant sheet of mist that soaked everything, indoors or out. Clothing didn’t hang from your shoulders, it clung to your skin. It felt like I was constantly sweating. I smelled like it to.

I sat down on the rocky bank and dipped my toes into the clear water. I lifted my dress above my knees then slid my bare legs below the surface.

“Don’t you have work to do?” A voice called from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder and watched Moriancum jump down from a large boulder. “No. But I’m sure you have.” I smiled at the sight of his him, his hair soaked with sweat and pasted to his head.

“Always do.” Moriancum plopped down beside me and unlaced his sandals.

“I wasn’t sure you were going to make it today.”

“Almost didn’t.” He was chewing on the edge of a wheat stalk.

I dropped my hand to the ground between us, my heart skipping more than one beat.

Moriancum looked down and smiled then grabbed my hand and squeezed. “I joined.”

The elation over his touch disappeared. I took a deep breath. “Really?”

“Yeah.” He nodded his head and threw the wheat stalk into the water. “The pay is good.”

It felt like he was hinting at something but I was too angry to care.

“Aren’t you happy about that?”

“Sure,” I said, watching the wheat stalk float away.

He ripped his hand away from mine and stood. “I thought you’d be pleased.”

I couldn’t look at him. “I am happy…for you.”

Moriancum bent over and picked up a large rock then threw it into the river just beyond my feet. Water splashed all over me.

I jumped up. “What was that for?”

“Because you deserve it.”

“I deserve it? What did I do?” I was angry at him. I had never been angry at him before.

“You don’t care! I joined the army so that I could earn more money so that I could,” his voice fell to a whisper. “marry you.”

“You joined the army because…” I couldn’t finish.

“Because,” his voice filled with conviction. “I want to marry you.”


Blood curdling cries filled the darkness, sending every bird in the jungle canopy screeching into the sky. The noise made my skin crawl. The little girl next to me whimpered and buried her face in her mother’s chest. Slowly, the sound faded into menacing chuckles and then silence. Several of the guards stepped forward, holding short handled torches that lit one side of their face, leaving the other deep in shadow.

A large man appeared from the blackness beyond the trees. He passed in front of the torchbearers, the light from their flames reflected off a gold medallion that hung from his neck. An emerald jaguar stood in relief against the yellow medal, the symbol of their king.

He stopped between his men and us, his face stained with blood and hatred. He raised his arms to the heavens, “Victory!”

The Lamanite warriors behind him lifted their arms in unison and repeated his cry.

He glared at us. “You are Nephites. Our blood enemies.” He paced back and forth.

“You must pay a price for what your people have done to us!” He paused, allowing his men to shout their agreements. “Your men have run like cowards and left you behind. You mean nothing to them! Nothing!” His voice grew louder as he spoke. “They offer you as a sacrifice for their own lives. Now we,” he stopped and scowled, “will offer you as a sacrifice for ours!”

A cheer arose. Their shrill cries gradually mixing with a deep rumble of voices that grew louder and louder. Soon every man was marching in place, thumping the ground with spears and swords and chanting sac-ri-fice.

My heart faltered and questions assaulted me. Was everyone else in the city dead? What happened to my family? Did Sarai get away? My mind stuck on the last question: Did Moriancum make it out alive?


“Go! Find some place to hide!” Moriancum grabbed my wrist and pulled me out the door. “Go get my sister and get out of here!”

“Where?” I ran behind him.

“Anywhere. I don’t know. Just get Sarai and hide.” He looked around frantically. Things were worse than I realized.

“Moriancum. What’s happened?” I pulled on his arm. He stopped, his shoulders raising with exaggerated breaths.

“We’re going to fall.” He faced me. “There are too many of them. We’re going to lose the city.”

It wasn’t just his words that stunned me. Nephite men were strong. They didn’t show fear. When they marched to battle their faces were painted with courage and assurance. Riding back from war, the bodies of their comrades buried in the battlefield, their faces were filled with triumph. Our army was strong and brave. Moriancum was strong and brave. But I saw a fear, like nothing I had ever seen before, seared on his face.

“What do I do?” There had to be another plan.

“Hide until you can get out of the city.” He hugged me and kissed my brow. “We will go north for help. Follow the river to Jordan. I will come find you.”

I watched him back out of the door. “What about my family.”

“You can’t reach the other end of the city in time. You must hide.” He took my hands in his and pressed his forehead into mine. “Essa, you are my wife. I must know that you are safe.”

I nodded. “I’ll hide.”


We had been led below ground, through a tunnel that opened up in the middle of the jungle floor. The pop and sizzle of water dripping onto the Lamanite’s torches echoed around the stone chamber and off the knee deep pool of water we were forced to stand in.

I rubbed my arms, trying to ward off the cold and brittle air. Below the knees the only sensation I had left was numb.

One at a time prisoners were led away. The women could barely walk, their stiff legs didn’t even have the strength to hesitate. Children were carried out, shivering instead of whimpering, over the warrior’s shoulders.

“What do you think it’s like? Dying?” The woman next to me asked, her teeth chattering.

I shrugged my shoulders and forced myself to answer. “We’ll soon find out.”

“Mmm.” She hugged herself and stared blankly at the ceiling.

I had been ignoring that question. At hearing her words I felt as if all the blood had been drained out of my body, leaving the burden of a deep ache that was quickly overwhelmed by a clarity of thought. The image came to me of Moriancum’s teacher leaning up against a tree as he spoke to us of a Savior. The last words I heard him preach filled my heart: And whoso taketh his name upon them, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.

The sound of water sloshing near the doorway brought my head around. The guard walking toward us was looking at me.

“You’re turn.” He grabbed my bound hands and pulled me toward the door.

Outside of the chamber a cloth was tied around my eyes. An already dark world retreated into sound. Splashing water, flickering torches, heavy breathing, and blade on stone.

I was guided through the tunnel and forced to lay down onto something hard and cold. My hands were pulled above my head and held in place. I felt someone grab my ankles and push down. My mind was screaming I’m about to die. My breathing grew rapid and shallow.

Above me I heard a quiet chanting that began to swell until I could understand. “…sacrifice…”

I pushed my mind back to the first time someone had spoken to me about sacrifice. The first time that Moriancum shared his beliefs with me.


Thunder reverberated through the sky and a static charge lit the air.

“Hurry!” Moriancum called as he ran faster.

I squealed with pleasure and followed. Another clap of thunder sounded, opening the heavens.

“Come on.” Running sideways through the downpour he looked back at me and smiled.

“I am!” I screamed.

We laughed and ran harder toward the small hut that I could see in the distance.

“What are we doing here?” I asked Moriancum as we came to a stop in front of the door.

He knocked. “You’ll see.”

The door opened and a young boy peered up at us.

“Let them in,” someone called from inside.

The door was pulled open just wide enough for us to squeeze through.

Water dripped from our clothes, forming a puddle on the dirt floor. The dark room was lit by two candles that sputtered in the humid air. Behind them sat a man I did not recognize.

“Welcome.” He stood and shook our hands then gestured toward the two chairs opposite him.

“Thank you.” Moriancum nodded in greeting and sat down.

I was confused. I looked from Moriancum’s broad smile to the stranger. “Why are we here?”

The man looked up at me and smiled. “Because of our Lord’s sacrifice.”

3 Nephi 27:6

And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end,

the same shall be saved at the last day.

16: The Pure: Messianic Wars

by Kessee Anderson

“There he is, get him!” the scream pierced the jungle night.

Zezromihah pushed away from the tree base that served as his hiding place and churned his powerful legs up the slope, Mal’ach hamavet or angel of death, his war axe in hand. Got to get to the top. Keep moving. Don’t stop! Blood pulsed through his head. His white robes whipped in and out of the jungle foliage like a specter. Jungle branches and vines slashed across his face as he blasted up the deer path he had scouted earlier. Every other stride he quickly darted his eyes to his left hand. The ringed white rock gleamed. I don’t understand, but I will obey.

He immediately changed direction and plowed through a mass of overgrowth and foliage that looked impenetrable. Even his most practiced of steps in the jungle were no match for the density of the fauna he encountered. Half falling, half tripping, a shock of relief overcame him when he realized he had dropped into an undiscovered jungle clearing. The grade of the mountain coupled with the angular up growth of the dense trees became a perfect cover for his flight. In the past the dead of night always played to his advantage, he was the perfect warrior, but the donning of his white robes changed all that. The dead of night was no ally at all. He spanned the lengthy clearing quickly. Sweat was pouring from his brow unchecked. His breath came heavily from the duration and speed of his flight. Control yourself. Master your body. His pulse immediately slowed. His breathing hushed to a whisper.

Listening intently he could hear movement on the other side of the living wall of plantation he crashed through moments before. Glancing down to his hand a scene projected into his mind. He saw the war party on the other side. They had stopped.

“What!? Korihan, where did his trail go!?” fear gripped the voice, “I don’t like this…I don’t think the robed one’s are human…”

Korihan cut him off, “Of COURSE they are human.” Frustration mounting his voice.

“But he moves like a ghost! It’s as if he is the living embodiment of the Great Spirit! He is too large for even a nephite!”

Korihan turned on his companion, grabbing and wrenching his face close to his, “Look into my eyes!”, his deadly gaze held him, “Cumiset, by the blood of our dead brother we will find him! What is this ‘Great Spirit’ you speak of? When the signs do not come to pass we will then be justified in destroying them all.” the last words were whispered, yet penetrated the night air. Korihan gave one last wild eyed stare then slowly turned his gaze back to the darkened trail.

Though outwardly angry, Korihan himself was shaken inwardly. This is impossible…the trail is gone. Vanished. In no way could someone disappear at this point in the trail. Korihan was the most skilled and trusted tracker and scout in Gid-Goshan’s party. He was not looking forward to the upcoming encounter explaining themselves how they let the white robe escape. They continued searching for the better part of an hour. Korihan, spirit defeated, called them back to camp. As lithe and quietly as they ascended the jungle, just as quiet they left.

Once the search party reached more than a mile off, the vision closed to Zezromihah. He examined the white rock in his hand. It’s polished white marble fit smoothly in his palm. It was upside down triangular in shape with the top point aimed up his arm. the workmanship was beyond anything he had ever seen. The circular inlay mesmerized him, a ’v’ shape held it’s base while some symbol he had only seen amongst the temple, but couldn’t place, extended from the top moving down. He would catch himself becoming lost in thought gazing into its shifting and morphing form. It pulsed with a faint light. He didn’t understand what it was, but he did not doubt it’s power. Four thin gold chains held it to his palm. A thicker singular golden chain extended from the downward tip to a golden bracelet that was inlayed with markings he had only seen at one time in his life with the High Priest in the temple. The other three golden chains extended up to three golden rings, the rings were pure and metallic, yet bore an elasticity that conformed with his hands movement keeping the stone always in his palm. Each ring bore a jewel he had never seen before. His index finger ring had a darkened jewel in the shape of a night star gleaming, facing outward embedded into the gold ring. The ring his middle finger bore had a jewel fashioned into a moon encrusted into the gold. The ring bearing a curiously fashioned Sunstone with a face etched onto it’s surface had been the hardest to pull on his hand. It fit his hand perfectly, as if the master craftsmen who was it’s creator knew every nuance his hand offered, but it was the emotional pain it replaced that he was so attached to. For before the Sunring was placed on that finger, the ring of his murdered wife, his symbolic pledge of undying, unyielding love, his commitment of protection to her, the cursed daily reminder he had sickly become dependant on, that ring of memories had kept it‘s place on his finger.

In a start he looked around. Curse my mental wanderings! How much time have I lost dallying! In relief he realized he had about two more hours of night until the break of dawn. He offered a silent prayer of thanks to God for allowing his escape and moved from the clearing. He moved quickly out of the clearing and followed a trail up to the ridge of the mountain. Gathering his bearings he realized he was only two days travel by foot to reach the temple and Aminadan the elder.

As he angled down the leeward side of the mountain in a far off distance the jungle carried a faint rhythmic beat of war drums. He knew the Lamanites were on the march, but the ensuing battle that was to unfold was not to be his…this time. His mission was urgent and he needed to move quickly to get the information he obtained into the right hands. The upcoming war was about to have a second front. A group had emerged of an ancient order that he had never encountered. Only one piece of the puzzle was left out, were these newly discovered ‘Gadianton’s’ vying for power? What was their aim and design? He had heard whisperings about them, but now he had irrefutable evidence of their existence. He needed sleep, but his mission didn’t allow it, using his war axe he cut through more jungle brush. The blessed edge of his axe cut through the vines easily… his mind drifted.

“I am fine with not cutting my hair, and not touching the dead, but no drink of the vine?” He smoothed out his white robes patterned after those his mentor was wearing. Zezromihah knew in his heart the truth of the command but wanted to feign disdain to see the rise it would bring out.

Aminadan the Elder smiled, “Do not be Laban and lose your head.“ sensing the half hearted rebuttal, the creases and lines of his weathered face exaggerated by the light of the fire as he looked away. The night was clear and the trainings had been long into the even times.

Aminadan paused for what felt an eternity, “Zezromihah, I know not all things, but I do companion with one who does. Feel into your soul, you know by the power of the Holy Spirit the truth of the Messiah. I am a simple man, simple in mind, simple in intelligence, but strong in wisdom and obedience. I have survived longer than any man amongst our ancestors and I owe it to obedience, even during the times we have been ravaged by war, I have felt God‘s protecting hand upon me. We are alike in some ways, though you are many seasons younger than me, you and your two brethren are the last of your great race. The Lord by the power of his spirit has chosen you to fulfill a sacred calling.” Aminadan’s bones creaked as his aged frame stood and he moved across the night air of the open plains to his makeshift tent of hides draped over poles. Minutes passed and he came back out, Zezromihah watched as the elder man resumed his position by the fire. Holding in his hand was what appeared to be bound parchment. The fire cracked and popped into the night. Winter was approaching.

Aminadan methodically spoke as he opened the bound parchments, “I have studied our scriptures, I have been caretaker for the plates of brass, and others written by our prophets, in order to preserve our history and ancestry.” Aminadan held his hand out holding the volume to Zezromihah, “The children of Mulek somehow kept this safe. It speaks of our order. The order you have been called. Nephi has revealed unto us the familial war in heaven before the foundations of this earth. But all of our knowledge of it was only the whisperings of the spirit that revealed unto us…until now. This was discovered up in the farther lands north. The book of the Wars of the Lord. Undecipherable till brought to me. I, the High Seer, with the power of Ur and Thum, I translated this into common tongue. I know it will be unlike yours, but I know you understand our language well enough to comprehend.”

Zezromihah opened the papers, diagrams and hieroglyphs unfolded before him, “Children’s stories?“ he smirked to himself. One diagram was of a giant mass of people, two figures were at the top etched in the forms of pleading their story to a greater. The massive audience was broken into three distinct parts. He made out words in the diagrams but his reading skill in the Nephite language was still weak. As he moved through the pages, an understanding began to open his mind. Battle formations, tactics, stratagems became apparent. “You are responsible for Helaman’s skill in commandeering…” his voice broke off in deep thought.

“Not I, the book. Well, not even the book, our God.” Aminadan gazed at the stars and the vast expanses of heaven.

Zezromihah moved from page to page absorbing the scenes that unfolded, “What are these shiny objects moving through the air here? They are not arrows? Some form of weapon?”

“I don’t know. But I do know that one division of the three began a war. They lost and were cast out.” A dread filled Zezromihah’s body at the phrase ’cast out’. He had encountered the ‘cast out’ only once and prayed it was to be his last…but he knew in his heart it was not to be the case. One page seemed devoted to a figure that stood out amongst the group with a sword alighted as if with fire holding back the throng of figures at bay. The next page he turned to held a word Zezromihah could tell was the heading of the page but didn’t understand it. His untrained toungue stumbled, “Kedushah…and I think another word, Nazir..?“

“According to the language of the Jews that word Kadushah is equivalent to your word ‘Tsinctosha’, in the Nephite common it means ‘Holy’. ‘Nazir’ is best translated into your language as ‘Quetzacosha’.”

“Don’t you mean Quetzalcosho, or amongst the others not of my kind Quetzalcoatl?”

“No, it is akin to your word for God, but not God. I think it refers more to an appendage of his power, not him exactly, I have heard the term Nazarite as a descriptor of the to be born Messiah, but I, and you are proof that you are not required to be God to have our calling.” His eyes gleamed at the thought.

The image under the top inscription was of a man, thick mane of hair flowed and crested his shoulders, face was fair and cleanshaven, he wore whitest of robes, sword held in a sheath bearing the same markings he had seen during his rites of passage in the temple. The figures left hand was held out. An artifact was held to the figures palm; the ’white rock’. Zezromihah’s eyes moved toward his war axe, Mal’ach hamavet, it’s edge and head gleaming with the same faint light as the artifact he possessed in his hand. Closing his hand he then looked to Aminadan…his own artifact in his hand faintly gleamed. Had one not known where to look one would not recognize the barely audible glow.

“These are soul trying times. I know the Messiah will come. Lyings are spread about the time of his coming, many are saying the time has passed, and though many signs have shown themselves, Satan is in the hearts of many people and blinds their eyes to the truth. The sun shines at noon day and they deny it’s light. These battles have only been precursors to the Wars of the Messiah, these Messianic Wars. They have bloodlust for our people. They wish to subjugate and eradicate us as they did to yours all due to the traditions of their fathers and anger they harbor against my progenitors when they crossed the great sea. God is merciful however, and as much as Satan increases his rage, God increases his love.”

Zezromihah’s mind came back to the present. He opened the travel pack on his side and pulled out some dried meat. Jungle cat was a delicacy and he savored each bite as long as he could before he allowed it to depart to his stomache from his mouth. The trail was widening before him. The sun needled it’s way through the canopy covering him. I need to get off this path, it’s too well traveled. He hefted his war axe and began to make his own path. Quickly and deftly with the strokes of a seasoned veteran of battle he tore through the vines. He came across an open glade yet the air grew cold. An unnatural chill had embraced him. He slowed his pace. A great battle had taken place here weeks before. Armaments were rusting, bodies were scattered across the ground where the animals and insects of the jungle began to make work of the flesh. The smell of death penetrated his nostrils. Zezromihah headed the warnings of Aminadab, “Avoid the dead. Touch them not.” He moved his way around the edges of the battle ensuring every step to be safe. The ground felt unholy.

Movement caught Zezromihah from the corner of his eye. Someone had just bounded away from the glade and disappeared into the jungles bowels. A small whisper floated to him from across the glade in a different direction from the personage who escaped, “My brother…I’ve waited so long.” The hair on Zezromihah’s neck stood on end. On the far edge of the battlefield a man came from the deep shade. He sensed an uneasiness he had known only once before. The man was a Lamanite yet he was wearing the armor and trappings of a Nephite. Zezromihah recognized the shield was crested with the mark of Lehum a lesser general in Lachoneus’ army. The man’s steps were erratic and unnatural as if he was unsure of his movements.

Zezromihah needed to escape. Death was surrounding him to his front, though not knowing why, he was obedient in not coming into contact with the corpses though his gut instinct told him to charge through the middle of the field of fallen. He quickly skirted around the edge trying to put distance between him and the attacker.

“Who are you.” Zezromihah stated flatly. Forcing his mind into control of his emotions.

The wispy voice continued, “You are blind…brother.”

The shock came when the voice came to him perfectly in his native tongue. Zezromihah, visibly shaken, inadvertently fell to his own tongue in return, “I am not your brother.”

“Oh, you are my brother, ah, I forget…you are veiled.” the voice carried in wisps and guttural rasps. The voice seemed apart from the body emanating it. The warrior slowly moved across the field, at times slipping on the unsure ground filled with battle paraphernalia.

“State your name.” A shadow of violence inflecting his words. Zezromihah gripped his axe tight.

“Eurynomus.” The man kept moving methodically towards him.

“Means nothing to me.”

“As I said, you are veiled. But know this. I know you.” In a shocking display of speed the armored warrior sprang. Zezromihah jumped aside, swinging his axe upward with all his might. It cleaved the wooden shield in two. He glanced to the ground to ensure he was on safe footing apart from the fallen warriors that littered the ground. His left hand pulsed. The white rock burned bright. The assailant freed his arm of the shield and charged again. Zezromihah looked over his attacker. What manner of diseased abomination is this! Though lamanite in features the skin color was pallid and a dull hue covered his once brown skin. Sick gashes and chunks were ripped from his arms most likely from previous battles. Zezromihah was powerful, but even he knew his one swing into a shield was not the cause of this man’s current condition. His leggings were torn and frayed and it was apparent that this man’s staggering came from walking on half rotted bruised legs, but even in his sickly condition he was unearthly fast. The attacker leapt to the air sword aimed at Zezromihahs throat. Zezromihah sidestepped and whipped his axe in a side arc to deflect the blade. His left hand reached out and gripped the mans throat in mid air. The white rock flashed. Zezromihah’s powerful arm held the man in place. He noted in his mind , even fully armored, the man was light. Zezromihah in a fluid motion threw the man toward the battle pile, but as soon as the motion was done his strength drained.

“Impossible…” the rasped voice screamed as the man flew threw the air. Zezromihah fell to a knee. What is happening to me… He glanced up, doing all he could to prepare himself for another attack. His vision blurred as silence filled the grove. The unnatural chill in the air began to dissipate. He looked to his hand, the white rock fell quiet, the light quenched. He stood to his feet. Looking over toward the attacker he saw a sword from the midst of the pile coming through from behind where the man had fallen, impaled. Breathing in a deep relieved sigh, he fumbled out of the opposite side of the glade. He noted the tracks of the man who escaped the field, but he was in no condition to pursue and he had to complete his mission. A hollowness filled his body. He pushed on.

His movements that day were visibly slowed though he had recovered to a small degree. Do I have the contagion? He pushed on. What should have been only a two day trip became three and a half. For every minute he began to feel better, immediately a wave of hollow uneasiness would fill him the next. His mind was cloudy. By sheer luck he made the rest of the trip to Aminadan the Elder and the temple unnoticed.

He stumbled up to the temple gates. They were curiously unguarded. He walked through the front gate unchallenged and then stumbled across the open outer courtyard.

“Hello!” He bellowed as loud as his weakened state allowed.

Aminadan peered from an upper balcony, “Zezromihah! Hurry inside!”

Zezromihah pushed through the thick chamber doors.

Aminadan’s countenance fell immediately, “What happened to you?” Concern increased in his voice.

“I am just feeling ill, that is all. I bring news of this group known as ‘Gadianton’s band’, they are more organized than any group I have ever encountered. They are not just simply robbers as our leaders are stating.”

“No, keep your strength and tale. There is time to hear it later, I need to know what happened to you. Why are you in this state?”

“Let me gather my mind, it is cloudy.“ Aminadan directed him to a bench by the wall. His massive frame filling it as he laid down. Aminadan placed a cushion under his head. Zezromihah continued, “A day out I came across a wooded glade. If you leave off the road that leads to Morianton there are a series of back trails through the jungle. I came across the remnants of a great battle. A division of Lachoneus’ troops were met there by a Lamanite battalion. Both suffered many casualties.”

“I told you to avoid the dead! It’s part of our code–” Aminadan grabbed Zezromihah’s left hand. The light was quenched on the rock.

“I did! I came into no contact with the dead.”

“Then why this condition, you are defiled.”

“A man attacked me in that glade. He was alive as sure as I am. I threw him and he impaled upon a sword in a pile of rotted warriors.” A grave expression crossed Aminadan’s face.

“You touched his skin?”

“Yes, he jumped at me and I held him at bay. He carried the contagion. I think he passed it on to me. I sweat sporadically, and my body feels fine one moment, then in the grips of death the next.”

“You wouldn’t be walking if you had the contagion. No this is different.”

“It was strange, the whole glade was an unnatural cold, and he…”

“What? I have to know. What about the man.”

“He was a lamanite by birth, but he was wearing the crest of Lehum.“

“Lehum…he disappeared weeks ago.“ Aminadan interjected speaking more to himself.

“But he spoke my native tongue perfectly. He claimed to be my brother and spoke of my mind being veiled.”

“Your language?”

“Yes. No one knows it outside of me and my brethren, and the bits that you have learned.”

“You must get up and come into the inner sanctum of the temple. We must begin the purification.”

“I told you..”

“No. You have touched the dead. I know not what unholy power that has been unleashed on the earth, but these are worrisome times indeed. The Gadianton group has made it’s presence known and now this…” his voice trailed off.

Now what?…What!?” Zezromihah implored as he forced his body to stand from the bench.

“The ‘cast out’ are finding themselves homes.” Aminadan spoke out matter of factly.

“Finding homes? What are you saying…” the weight of understanding shook Zezromihah to his very core.

“That is why we have been called. To fight the ‘cast out’. Satan’s unearthly minions. It has been spirit battles, possessions. It seems Satan has instituted a new low to his ungodly priesthood taking the broken shells of the dead and putting them to his use with his followers.

“He even gave me his name, Eurynomus. He said he was my brother.”

“That’s because he is.”

Zezromihah’s stomach fell.

“He is in his first estate and is doing all he can to get his second. Possession seems to be only one tool and it seems it’s not as useful to them now. Come, we have to get started. You will be useless for a week so we need to start now to get this done with.” Aminadab opened a side door of the inner sanctum and held in his hand a bag of grain. In his other hand he held incense and a vile containing oils. He motioned Zezromihah to sit down.

“I am sorry I have to do this for it goes against all your customs and traditions, but we have to take the first steps of purification.” Sorrow exuded from Aminadabs tender voice.

“I gave up strong drink. This will be nothing in comparison.” But it wasn’t, it turned out to be one of the hardest events of his life. The only event that eclipsed this was the loss of his family when his village was razed by the Lamanites. Zezromihah, one of the last three Anakim, Zezromihah, one of the last in a glorious race of giants whose ancestors crossed the great deep from a land only remembered and passed down through generations known as Hebron, could not keep the tears unabated as his glorious locks of hair were being cut from his head.

15: The Sign

“Abish! Don’t go in there yet!” called Sarhen testily as she ground some corn in a metate.

“Why?” asked the little girl.

“I can’t believe that father is still fasting,” groused Mittoni. He tested out his new bow, and aimed experimentally at Zeb. “It’s a superstitious practice anyway. The priests say that cutting yourself with spines is much more effective at getting the gods’ attention. They say that the gods notice pain and blood more than silent hunger.”

“Don’t let father hear you say that,” said Zeb, grabbing the bow out of Mittoni’s hands, causing Mittoni to squawk in protest. “He hates the priests.”

“Why?” asked Abish, her eyes big. She loved listening to everything her brothers said.

“They are sons of a liar!” a deep voice came from the hut.

Mittoni and Zeb looked at each other. Abish ran into the hut to where her father was lying on his face in the pressed dirt, stretched out before the fire. She was used to seeing him pray like this, though she wasn’t sure why he always faced the fire instead of the little carved man that stood on a post near the door, which her friends said was one of the gods. Every time her father prayed, Abish always noticed that the stone god ended up lying on the ground. It lay there now, and she was bending down to put it back up on the post when her father spoke again, though his face never left the dust.

“Leave it where it is, Abish. If it has any power, let it put itself back.”

She went over to her father and lay down next to him, trying to lie on her face just like him. She would try to be holy and wise like him.

“Father, why are the priests sons of a liar?”

“Because they tell us the blood of the Nephites will make the gods happy. Because they stir us up to anger. Because they tell us whatever we do is right. Because they steal from us more than the Nephites have. Because they always prophesy victory to us for our battles with the Nephites and then we are driven and slaughtered. They know not the true god, the Great Spirit.” Azlon’s voice became more and more bitter as he spoke.

“Father, are you done fasting yet?” Mittoni’s voice called into the hut with grudging respect.

“My son, I have something very important to tell you, Zeb, Abish, and your mother.”

Abish could hear Mittoni sigh before he trudged into the hut. He was followed by Zeb and Sarhen. Sarhen’s hands still held a head of maize, peeling the leaves from it as she entered. They all gathered around and sat cross-legged about Azlon, who finally rolled over onto his back and looked up at them. There was a whiteness to his skin that Abish had never noticed before.

“I have told you often that the priests are sons of a liar and that we wander in the dark, ignorant of who we should worship and how we should worship. I’ve prayed for many days for the Great Spirit to reveal the truth to me,” Azlon said. “I have struggled and I have cried and I have pleaded. I have wrestled. My tears have made the ground into mud. Today I have received a vision and a sign.”

Abish looked at her brothers and saw that both Mittoni and Zeb had wrinkled brows. Her mother leaned forward to pat her father on the arm. “You don’t have to tell us this now. You are weak. Let me bring you food first. You may have imagined you saw something in your hunger.”

“Woman, I know what I saw!” Azlon’s voice was strong. “I know what I heard! You must hear me now. I saw a man dressed in white. He showed me the land of our forefathers, even Jerusalem. (No, Zeb, it was not the city of our priests.) He showed me a man riding an ass and a colt of an ass, and all the people crying ‘Hosanna!’ and waving palm branches and laying their clothes in the streets in front of him for him to ride over. I watched this man go to a temple that looked like ours, where there were priests who acted like ours, and he made a whip and beat them. He threw them out. Then the man in white told me that true prophets would come to our people. He gave me a sign. First he said that kings would shut their mouths, for that which they had not heard they shall consider. He said that the king’s household would lie prostrate as I had and worship as I had, and that by this I and my family would know that true prophets had come into the land and we would know to receive them.”

Abish was entranced. She wanted to hear more, but when she looked at her mother, she knew what disapproval looked like.

“Azlon, your fasting has carried you away to vain imaginations. The king and his household have never lain prostrate for anyone or anything! The king scarcely bows to his own father!”

“I know!” Azlon’s eyes gleamed and he smiled in amusement. “And he never bows to the priests! When the king and his household lie prostrate before the power of the Great Spirit, it will be a miracle!” Then his smile faded. “I don’t know how long we will have to wait. Maybe days. Maybe years.”

“Are you going to tell the priests about your vision?” asked Mittoni after a minute of silence during which Abish watched him fidget and dig one of his arrow points into the dirt.

“No,” growled Azlon. “those dogs deserve nothing. And this is not to go out of this house, you understand?”

“I should hope not!” said Abish’s mother indignantly. “If anyone knew, they would stone us and cast us out and call us Nephite-lovers.”

“That doesn’t mean we need to bow down to those dumb idols the rest of our people bow to,” said Azlon. “Abish, Mittoni, Zeb, the Great Spirit is not wood or stone. Remember that. And always remember the sign. When the king and his household lie prostrate before the power of the Great Spirit, that is when true prophets have come into the land.”

Abish never forgot her father’s words. Just before he died, when she was twelve, he repeated them in a gritty voice, and squeezed her hand as tightly as he could with his feeble, feverish fingers. Mittoni and Zeb were eighteen and twenty then, and they rolled their eyes at the repetition of the prophecy. But they fancied themselves fierce warriors and had joined a group of men that terrorized the more peaceful shepherds. Abish once followed them at a distance to see where they went and watched from a thicket of young trees as they scattered a flock at a stream. She heard them divide up some fat sheep, slaughter them, and carve up the carcasses. Then she snuck back home. When they appeared at her mother’s hut with haunches of raw meat wrapped in large leaves for her mother to cook up, she knew her brothers for robbers.

Once she tried to confront them for their robbery, and they reviled her. “If you don’t like what we bring home, you can find something else to eat!”

“But it’s the king’s meat!”

“What if it is? He has so many sheep as it is. He won’t miss what we take. He owes us for our loyalty.” Their arguments buzzed around Abish like stinging flies.

“What if the king sends his warriors to guard the sheep? You might put out your hand to steal a sheep and find it cut off.”

“Warriors? Used as shepherds?” Zeb bellowed a laugh. “If the king ever did that, his warriors would be offended. Shepherding is slave’s work.”

She tried one more time to remind them of the thing that now seemed always to run through the back of her mind. “What about when the true prophets come into the land, according to the sign given by our father? How will you receive the true prophets if you live by stealing?”

“Abish, father is dead. He was a childish man of foolish imaginations. When you are older you will see that what he predicted can never come to pass.”

Abish knew it was no good talking to them then. She would just have to watch and wait for the sign herself. Her mother had similarly forgotten to watch for the sign and by the time Abish was fifteen, her mother was bowing to the stone idol on the post like all her friends did.

“Perhaps the Great Spirit will make our beans and squash grow bigger,” said Sarhen, when Abish asked her why. “It can’t hurt.”

Shortly after Abish turned sixteen, the queen learned that Abish was responsible for forming the elaborate twists and braids in Sarhen’s hair. The queen demanded that Abish come to her every morning to comb and braid her hair and promised to find Abish a fine husband among the king’s best warriors. Abish was pleased to have a chance to be so near the king’s household. Hopefully she would be nearby when her father’s sign came to pass.

One day, Abish came back to her mother’s hut fuming.

“Why are you so angry, my daughter?” her mother asked her, looking up from watching the fire to make sure that the flat bread didn’t burn on the stones.

“The king has just ordered all his shepherds to be killed again!” exclaimed Abish. “They are to be sacrificed to the sun god this evening because they allowed his flocks to be scattered at the waters of Sebus!”

“They were careless. They deserve punishment,” said Sarhen calmly.

Abish sat down on the ground next to her. “But carelessness is not a crime that someone should be killed for. The king will bring a curse on his household if he persists in this injustice. If you hadn’t let Mittoni and Zeb make friends with those robbers and thieves…”

“The king would still be killing his servants,” interrupted her mother. “The king’s servants have been careless so often that he must frighten them so that they aren’t careless any more.”

“And it doesn’t work! Don’t you see?” protested Abish, “And Mittoni and Zeb and their friends are murderers too. They steal and scatter the king’s flocks. Their actions result in the king’s servants’ execution. They delight in this destruction! And we eat the meat that they plunder! We are living in a circle of evil!”

“And what would you do about this, Abish?” asked Sarhen, turning the bread so that it slapped against the rock. “We must have food. Would you tell the king what your brothers are doing and have his wrath fall on all of us? Would you tell your brothers to stop and have them laugh in your face? Our garden grows barely enough for us to eat because of the unseen fingers that pluck the fruit before we can. I can only hope that it is the gods taking their portion.”

“Our brothers should be guarding the garden, rather than robbing the king’s flocks,” said Abish petulantly.

“They are warriors,” said her mother simply, as if that were the answer to everything.

Abish could think of only one more thing that she could do. She would have to fast. She couldn’t lie on her face for three days like her father had, but she could go out into the silent trees and cry at night. That’s what she did.

Sometimes the queen called for Abish to come and dress her hair twice a day. These were on days when there would be a grand feast after the sun went down. Often the queen would allow Abish to come and watch and eat as the people brought gifts or made sport for the king.

This night, a dozen warriors approached the king with their spears and clubs, pushing a man before them. A Nephite. He bowed low before the king, and they pushed him down onto the ground.

“Great king, we found this Nephite journeying into the borders of our land. He was leading an army, clearly intending to invade. We killed them all and saved him alive. Do with him what you will.”

“Not true, O king,” said the Nephite. “They found me alone. I came into the land to become better acquainted with all of you, my brethren.”

“He lies!” cried one of the warriors, kicking the Nephite in the side. “Shut your mouth, dog!”

“Examine their swords then, O king,” said the Nephite, unfazed. “Does blood stain their swords as it would if they had fought and killed an army of Nephites?”

Abish could hardly hold in her laughter as the warriors turned visibly sheepish. The king leaned forward and asked to see their swords and they held them out.

“Hmm. I don’t see any fresh blood.” The king said. Then he fixed the warriors with a glare and shouted, “GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!!”

The warriors turned and ran as all the onlookers laughed.

“You are clever, Nephite. Do you want to dwell with my people?” the king said.

“Yes. Maybe until I die…”

Abish watched the Nephite negotiate terms for dwelling in the land. It was strange that he hadn’t seemed very frightened when he was thrown in front of the king. Usually prisoners trembled and stammered, and if they were allowed to stay, they were so nervous that they gladly agreed to do anything the king asked. In contrast, the Nephite seemed quite cheerful.

Abish emptied the rest of the food in front of her into her bag to take home to her mother. Her seat was behind many of the other servants, so she could leave unnoticed.

Three days later, Abish was awakened in the dead of night by Mittoni’s heavy hand shaking her shoulder.

“Zeb is dead.”

“What?” whispered Abish, shocked into full awareness. “What happened?”

“It was that son of a liar, that… Nephite! The one watching the king’s flocks.”

By this time their mother was awake as well and demanding that Mittoni not frighten her with foolish stories like a son of shame.

“Zeb is dead,” repeated Mittoni more loudly now. His forceful tone brought whimpers from Sarhen as she prepared to bewail her son, though she kept them quiet so that she could hear how it came to pass.

“Ohhh, my son, my son..”

“We had scattered the king’s flocks once already so that some of our men could pick off a few choice animals separated from the rest of the group,” said Mittoni. “But somehow the servants were able to round them up and bring them back to the waters of Sebus. So we tried to do it again, but that Nephite–no, he had to be some kind of god—came and told us to depart in peace and we wouldn’t get hurt. We thought he was mocking us.”

“Perhaps he was,” put in Abish.

Mittoni slapped her. “You know nothing, girl!”

“He slung stones at us with his sling and he killed Hammath, Elam, Amnor, Jeneum, Aiath, and Helom. We tried to hit him with our slings and we couldn’t. And yes, mother, I have been practicing with the sling! I can hit any leaf I choose at fifty cubits! We had to defend ourselves. Slings weren’t working, so we tried clubs. But he cut off the arms of twelve of our strongest men! He was like a bull, unstoppable. He chased us about halfway to Nephi-Lehi before we got away from him. When we were out of danger, I looked around for Zeb and couldn’t find him. The others told me to go back another way, but I retraced my steps after waiting a while and found Zeb lying in his gore. The monster had overtaken him and hewn him down.”

“Where is his body?” Sarhen started up from her mat. “I must see my son!”

“I dragged Zeb’s body halfway here, before I thought it best to fetch you, mother.” Mittoni said. He took her hand in a tight grip. “I will avenge Zeb’s blood. The monster will die.” His tone was icy.

Abish followed her mother and Mittoni out of the hut to the fire, where Mittoni plucked one of the firebrands out and held it in front of him as a torch. Sarhen was beginning to wail out her grief in long keening cries. Abish joined in, for the sake of the boy her brother had once been before he became a sheep-stealer.

“Zeeeeeeb, Zeb, my soooonn!”

“Zeeeeb, my brother, my brother!!”

Dark figures from other huts joined them as they went, lifting up their voices in lamentation.

Abish approached the royal huts after three days of mourning for Zeb. They had buried him on a hill overlooking the waters of Sebus. Each day of those three days, Mittoni had watched the king’s flocks approach the water with the king’s servants surrounding them, instead of all in a chattering group as they usually were. He gnashed his teeth, but remained silent, and Abish could see that he was now fearful. She wondered how he would carry out his vow of vengeance if the Nephite-monster was as powerful as he had said.

She still wondered even now, as she walked to the queen’s hut. How odd. There was no one there. She turned and went to the royal pavilion where the king held audience with his warriors and servants. It was strangely quiet and empty. No one met her carrying baskets of bananas or slices of squash, as often happened before. Maybe the king was sick. She turned and headed for the king’s hut.

What she saw when she looked in struck her with wonder and amazement. In the middle of the large hut was the king’s jaguar fur-covered bed, with the king lying on it. To the side of his bed lay the queen, her hand clasping the hand of her husband. And around the walls of the hut, were the king’s servants, lying on their faces, arms out in front of them, hands clasped, as if pleading for mercy. And the Nephite was lying on the ground too, his face turned to the side. The air was thick with something that made her spine tingle and it flashed into her mind that the day she had been watching for for so many years had finally come.

Her father’s sign!

It was fulfilled!

True prophets were in the land!

The tingle running up her spine turned into a burning fire. She had to tell someone. No, she had to tell everyone! She turned and ran.

“Mother! Mother!” Abish screamed as she neared her mother’s hut.

“What is it, Abish? What happened? Is the king murdered?” Her mother’s tear-sunken eyes were full of alarm.

“The sign! Father’s sign! It’s all fulfilled! Go look at the king in his hut!” Abish grabbed her mother’s shoulders and shook them.

“What are you talking about!?” growled Mittoni, striding out of the hut.

“The king and his household lie prostrate before the power of the Great Spirit! The time of true prophets has come!” Abish dashed away heading through the village to her friends’ huts, yelling as she went. “The power of the Great Spirit is upon the king! The power of the Great Spirit is upon the king’s household! You must go and see!”

Mittoni and Sarhen watched her go, looked at each other, and began to run toward the king’s hut. Their nearest neighbors followed them at the same pace.

When Abish was sure she had let the whole village know, she ran puffing back to the kings’ hut. Her mother would surely be explaining to them all about the vision her father had so many years ago and the sign he had spoken of. The people would believe. The king would surely send messengers to search out the true prophets. The people would all see what true prophets were like. They would put away their idols and learn to worship the Great Spirit correctly.

As she neared the king’s hut she saw the crowd milling around near the royal pavilion. As she got closer, she began to hear arguing.

“It’s all the Nephite’s fault. The king shouldn’t have given him a place among us. Nephites are liars and murderers. Everyone knows that.”

“No, the king is getting just what he deserved! Remember how many times he killed his servants for losing the sheep?”

“My son Kith was executed, just because robbers took a few lambs!” shouted one woman. “Do you call that justice?”

“You fools! That Nephite is the cause of all of this! This is no sign! He killed my brother!”

Abish recognized the voice of her brother Mittoni. The warm feeling inside her faded and was replaced by a gripping tension. He didn’t believe in the sign! Then another thought struck her with the force of a falling tree. What if the Nephite was one of the true prophets? She began to push through the crowd, trying to get to the front, but they all seemed to want to see, some pushed back.

“The Nephite-monster will die! I have sworn it!” Her brother’s shout came to Abish, as she pushed harder.

“No! No! No!” Abish screamed as she threw herself between arms and even through legs. Tears streamed from her eyes without her noticing. Oh, Great Spirit, save him!

There was a gasp from the crowd. Abish kept pushing through as she heard new mutterings from the front.

“What happened? What do you see?” someone asked another.

“He’s dead!” the report came back.

“Who’s dead?” everyone seemed to be asking.

“He raised his sword to kill the Nephite and he fell dead!”

“I don’t understand this? What is this great power?”

“What does this mean?”

“It must be the Great Spirit. That Nephite isn’t a Nephite; he must be the Great Spirit. That must be why he can’t be killed. Didn’t you hear what he did at the water’s of Sebus?”

“But he has a body! So he can’t be the Great Spirit! He must have been sent by the Great Spirit to torment us because of our many iniquities. He cut off the arms of two of my sons when they were trying to steal the king’s flocks.”

“The Great Spirit would not torment us though! The Great Spirit is supposed to watch over us! He can’t be from the Great Spirit. He must be a monster, some sort of demon.”

“You fool, you think the Great Spirit has watched over us? Ha! The Great Spirit has always been on the Nephite side, else why do we lose so many battles?! The Great Spirit has always saved the Nephites, even when we outnumbered them five to one and were trying to sneak up on them! How could they know we were coming if the Great Spirit didn’t warn them?”

Abish had finally made her way to the front of the crowd. She saw the king, the queen, the servants, and the Nephite, lying as she had seen them before, but next to the Nephite she saw her brother Mittoni, lying still, and her mother kneeling with her face buried in the bare chest of her brother.

“Ohhhhh, my son, my sonnn..” Sarhen moaned softly.

A strange relief settled on Abish, though her tears still ran freely. If Mittoni had been unable to slay the Nephite, the Nephite must surely be one of the true prophets. The Great Spirit had heard her prayers and the prayers of her father. Praise the day; it has finally come. With a heart aching with mingled joy and grief, she turned to the queen and took her by the hand.

14: Once a Gadianton…

by Brenda Anderson

In the ninety-fourth year of the reign of the judges…

Tulekiah’s foot slipped, sending loose stones clattering down the mountainside. He froze in place, clinging to the mountainside, listening to the rocks echoing in the canyon below. Sunrise was still a few hours away, and the crescent moon hanging in the sky gave him little light. Still, Tulekiah peered through the darkness, searching for movement. After a few minutes, he decided it was safe. He found a sturdy foothold and pushed himself over the cliff edge. He sat for a moment, trembling from effort and fear. The mountain is crawling with Gadiantons; how do I get inside without getting caught? Never in all of his seventeen years had he heard of anyone returning from the Gadianton Mountains.

His eyes began to drift shut, and he couldn’t keep from yawning. No good. Tulekiah reached for his water bag at his waist. He took a long drink then splashed some of the water onto his face, cleaning away the dirt and, hopefully, his exhaustion. Rejuvenated, he started to rise. A heavy hand clamped onto his left shoulder, squeezing hard.


Tulekiah wriggled out of the man’s grip, but in the process the man nearly dislocated Tulekiah’s shoulder. He jumped back to appraise his attacker. The man was definitely a Gadianton. His hair was long and wild, reaching nearly to his waist. The only clothing he wore was a band of cloth around his loins. A picture of a snake, fangs out, preparing to strike, decorated the man’s chest. The remainder of the snake’s body wrapped around the man’s side and coiled onto his back. Tulekiah knew this was the Gadianton mark—each robber bore the snake somewhere visible upon his body.

“What’s a kid like you doing out in these mountains at night?” The man taunted, tossing his spiked club from side to side.

“I’m no kid.” Tulekiah said, trying to keep his fear from squeaking out in his voice. “I’m here for my brother; I demand that you take me to him.”

“You’re not in a position to demand anything.”

Tulekiah drew his dagger. “We’ll see.” He lunged forward, managing to slice into the man’s leg before another man grabbed him from behind and swiftly disarmed him.
“Well, Kumeni, I see you couldn’t even handle this kid.” The second man was taller than Kumeni and wore a short-cropped silver robe. He held Tulekiah tightly in his left arm; his right hand wielded a long spear with an obsidian tip. The shank of the spear was carved with intertwining serpents, gems sparkled in their eyes.

Kumeni grunted, holding his hand over the wound in his thigh. “I was only toying with him, Lehonti.”

“Sure,” Lehonti scoffed. He kicked Tulekiah’s dagger aside. “So, who is this brother you’re looking for?”


“Ah, yes, Pacumenihah. Did he not warn you of the dangers of traveling these mountains—especially alone and at night?”

“Take me to him.” Tulekiah insisted.

“No.” Kumeni slashed a scrap of cloth from Tulekiah’s cloak and tied it around his wounded leg. “Lamechi will decide what happens to you.”

Lehonti lashed Tulekiah’s wrists and ankles with cords and flung him over his shoulder. Then he and Kumeni took him to one of the mountain entrances—a slit in the rock, practically hidden between two large boulders. Inside, the winding path was lit by wall-mounted torches; in the silence of the mountain, Tulekiah could hear the flames snap and crackle. They stayed on the main path, although numerous caverns opened up on either side of them, dark and gaping beyond the reach of the torchlight.

Other Gadiantons appeared and disappeared; their passage was stealthy; Tulekiah was hardly aware of their presence. Finally the pathway widened, and Lehonti and Kumeni ushered Tulekiah into a large cavern. Everything—walls, ceiling, floor—sparkled in the torchlight. A large throne, carved right out of the wall, glittered with the dancing flames

Lamechi sat on the throne, adorned with the finest clothing his thieves could find. Jeweled bracelets and necklaces hung like vines from his limbs.

Lehonti pulled Tulekiah from his shoulder and dropped him in a heap on the stone floor.

“Bow before Lamechi, one of the Six Rulers of the Gadiantons.” Kumeni commanded.

“What do we have here?” Lamechi asked. He gave Tulekiah a brief glance before returning his attention to the tray of fruit at his side.

“A trespasser, in search of his brother, my lord.” Lehonti replied.

“A prisoner?” Lamechi wondered.

“No, my lord, one of us.”

Lamechi turned his head sharply toward the captive; a bunch of plump purple grapes dangled momentarily forgotten from his left hand. “Why do you seek your brother?”

Tulekiah staggered to his feet. “To bring him home.”

Laughing, Lamechi turned away from the boy. “Once a Gadianton, always a Gadianton. The only way out is death.” He pulled a grape from its stem with his lips and sucked it into his mouth.

“You’ve deceived him! Tricked him into believing that by joining you he could protect his family.”

“Enough!” Lamechi rose from his chair and glared down at Tulekiah. “The only way out is death. We can arrange it, if you’d like.”

“No,” Tulekiah protested, his eyes wide with panic.

“Then we have nothing more to discuss.” Lamechi turned his attention back to Lehonti. “See that he is given a reminder to stay away from the mountains; then release him.” With a wave of his cloak, Lamechi disappeared from the chamber.

Kumeni rubbed at his injury as he moved toward Tulekiah, his club raised. “I’m going to enjoy this.” He glanced around the room; four more Gadiantons lounged around the edges. “Anyone else want in on the fun?”

The others nodded, arming themselves and moving to the center of the cavern. Lehonti watched as the men attacked the young man with their weapons. Tulekiah screamed in pain with each blow, but he spoke no words until a large group of Gadiantons passed through the room. They paid no attention to Tulekiah’s punishment; beatings were a common occurrence and interfering only meant more trouble.

“Pacumenihah!” Tulekiah called out to one of the younger robbers when the group moved through his line of vision. “Pacumenihah, come home with me, please.”

Tulekiah’s lips were bleeding, and his face was swollen, but Lehonti detected a flash of recognition in the robber’s face as Tulekiah called out to him. For a moment, Pacumenihah hesitated, looking toward his bleeding brother; then the press of the other robbers around him moved him forward. He turned away and continued out of the chamber. Tulekiah sank to the ground, one more blow from Kumeni’s club knocked him unconscious.

“That will do.” Lehonti said, holding Kumeni tightly around the wrist to prevent any further attack. The other Gadiantons backed off. “Let’s take him down the mountain and be done with him.”

“I’ve found him!” Jacob called out as he knelt beside the still form lying amid the rocks at the base of one of the mountain trails. “He’s alive, barely,” he told his mother when she dropped to her knees next to him.

“Tulekiah,” Kezreel whispered, carefully brushing her youngest son’s bloodied hair from his face. “What were you thinking?”

Tulekiah shuddered and tried to open his eyes, but he couldn’t. His mouth barely moved as he spoke. “Save Pacumenihah.” He drew in a deep, raspy breath and went limp again.

“Hurry, Jacob, we must get him back so the elders can give him a blessing.”

A few hours later, Tulekiah awoke. He lay upon a thick bed of soft furs; a heavy blanket was pulled up to his chest. Most of his swelling was gone—he could smell the acrid scent of the poultices his mother had used to tend his wounds—but his head pounded as loud as the drums of impending battle.

“Lay still, Tulekiah,” his mother commanded when he tried to sit up. “You have a long recovery ahead of you.”

“I don’t have time for recovery,” he argued, but he allowed her to ease him back against the furs.

“Yes, you do, young man, and you now have plenty of time to explain to me what you were trying to accomplish by entering the Gadianton Mountains.”

Tulekiah wrinkled his nose and let his gaze wander around the room. He was in his parents’ chamber; his father’s hunting bow and knife sat in one corner of the room next to a small pile of tunics and sandals that waited to be repaired—most of them Tulekiah’s. “I already told you; I went to save Pacumenihah.”

“How? Did you think you could just walk right in to their lair and whisk him away?”

He studied his hands. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Kezreel laughed, more a sound of exasperation than humor. “Well, I hope you learned something.”

Tulekiah was silent for a moment. “I did. I need to go back.”

“No! I won’t allow it. Tulekiah, you were lucky to escape with your life the first time. Going back is a death sentence.” Kezreel sighed. “We all miss Pacumenihah, but he made his choice. We can’t change that no matter how much we want to.”

Sitting up, Tulekiah said softly, “I saw him.” His mother turned to him, a hungry expression haunting her features—a mother desperate for news of her absent son. “While they were beating me, he came through the chamber with a group of robbers. I called out to him, and he looked at me. For a moment his eyes flickered with emotion; for a moment, he was the Pacumenihah that we remember.”

Hope lit his mother’s eyes then faded. “But he allowed them to hurt you.”

With a slight shake of his head, Tulekiah defended his brother, “He had no say in my punishment. Had he tried to help me, we both would have been killed.” He paused. “If I could see him alone, I think I could convince him to return to us.”

“Impossible.” Kezreel’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “You’d be captured and killed before you ever entered the mountain.”

Tulekiah’s shoulders slumped. “I can’t give up on him.”

Kezreel’s face softened. “I know how close you two were, Tulekiah. I know you miss him. But we can’t rescue him, not the way you want to. All that’s left for us to do for him is to pray.”

“I don’t believe that.” Tulekiah crossed his arms. “Mother, if there’s a chance I can save him, I’m not afraid to return and find out.”

“You’re not going back.” His mother kissed the top of his head. “Now get some rest.”

Amgid watched Tulekiah twirl and slash as he practiced with his dagger. Two weeks’ time had given the young man his strength back, and both Amgid and Kezreel saw the determination growing in their son’s eyes—he was planning to return to the mountains.

“Looks like your ready to hunt again,” Amgid said when Tulekiah paused to catch his breath.

“Yeah.” Tulekiah frowned at the weapon in his hand. “It doesn’t feel right, though. I had my other dagger for so long that it almost felt like it was part of my hand.” He flipped the dagger in the air and caught it again. “This one feels cold and awkward.”

“Give it time,” Amgid counseled. “I’m sure you’ll get used to it.”

Tulekiah shrugged and turned back to his practicing, but the mountains in the distance distracted him. Looking back at his father, he said, “I’m ready for more than just hunting.”

Amgid feigned ignorance. “What do you mean?”

“It’s time to go back and get Pacumenihah.”

Resting his hand on his son’s shoulder, Amgid sighed. “You’re mother already explained this to you, Tulekiah. Pacumenihah is beyond our reach; all we can do is pray for him.”

Tulekiah kicked at the dirt with his sandal. “I have prayed father. My answer is that I have to go back.”

Amgid’s face reddened with anger. “Going back means certain death; it’s foolishness. The Lord would not ask you to do that!”

“Who are we to decide what the Lord would have us do?” Tulekiah asked quietly. “He asked Nephi to take Laban’s life despite the commandment not to kill. The Lord knows everything—He knows what Pacumenihah needs.” Tulekiah took a deep breath. “He’s asked me to go back.”

Amgid didn’t reply. He studied his hands for a few minutes then looked from his son to the forbidding mountains hulking in the distance.

“You can’t stop me, you know.” Tulekiah said softly. “Short of locking me up.” He placed his hand over his father’s as they twisted together in uncertainty. “I’m not trying to defy you and Mother. I’m only doing what the Lord has asked.” When his father still said nothing, Tulekiah slipped his hand away and started to leave. Then he stopped and added, “Pray about it yourself, Father. You’ll see I speak the truth.”

Most of Tulekiah’s scars were still pink when he felt the time had come to head back to the mountains, but some of the smaller ones had faded. He chose a quiet, moonless night; he strapped his sheathed dagger to his thigh, just above his knee, and lay impatiently on his blankets, waiting for his family to settle in to sleep. His parents’ voices drifted through the animal hide that separated their room from the other rooms. Jacob and Tulekiah’s other brothers, except Pacumenihah, had married and now lived in nearby homes. His two unmarried sisters slept in the adjoining room. Until Pacumenihah’s departure eight moons ago, they had shared this room, shared dreams and fears of the future.

Tulekiah shut his eyes, remembering. It was a night much like this one when Pacumenihah left. A light sleepier, Tulekiah had sensed Pacumenihah’s quiet movements; he had opened his eyes just as his brother raised the curtained door and prepared to step out.

“Where are you going?”

Pacumenihah paused. “I have to leave.”

“Where are you going?” Tulekiah repeated.

His brother sighed. “Remember how we talked about the Gadiantons and how they threaten to overrun the land? Well, I’ve found a way to protect us, our family, especially you, Tulekiah.”

“But where are you going?” he demanded, a little louder.

“I’m joining the Gadiantons.”

“What?” Tulekiah cried out.

“Shhhh,” Pacumenihah hissed. “It’s the only way. If I join them, they promised to protect our family. You and mother and everyone else will be safe—the Gadiantons won’t hurt you.”

Tulekiah shook his head. “But at what price? Pacumenihah, the Gadiantons are wicked men, they’ll make you a wicked man. You can’t join them, no matter what they promised.” He reached out to him and was relived when Pacumenihah clasped his hand upon his forearm.

“I’m sorry; I’ve made my choice.” Pacumenihah embraced his younger brother quickly then disappeared into the night.

The memory faded, and Tulekiah realized that his parents’ voices had quieted as well. He heard nothing but the rustle of the slight breeze and chirping crickets. Slipping outside, Tulekiah allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Ahead of him, the Gadianton Mountains loomed black and foreboding in the distance.

Pulling his cloak tighter around his shoulders, Tulekiah took a deep breath.


At the whispered sound of his name, Tulekiah whirled around, his heart racing, his hand already reaching for his dagger.

Amgid emerged from the shadows; recognizing his father, Tulekiah released his dagger, letting it remain in its sheath. His father approached him silently and handed him a bundle. When Tulekiah unrolled it, he found a cloak and a small pack of supplies.

“I thought my hunting cloak might be of use to you.” He gestured toward the pack. “There’s some dried meat and a skin of water, in case you need it.”

“How did you…”

“Just go, Tulekiah.” Amgid pulled his son close for a moment. “Go with God.”

Ascending the mountain without the aid of moonlight was more difficult; Tulekiah was unable to maintain the pace he had used during his first climb. As the night progressed, he realized that he might need to find a place to hide before the sun rose. Finding a cave was not an option; those were most likely employed by the Gadiantons. He toyed with the idea of searching for one of the openings into the Gadianton lair and finding a deserted tunnel to hide in, but as he crept passed a cluster of large boulders, he spotted an opening that might just be large enough for him to squeeze into.

Tulekiah climbed up to the opening and wriggled through it. The space that he found himself in allowed very limited movement. He was most comfortable if he sat with his knees pulled up and his head resting on them; if necessary he could stretch out either his head and arms or his legs, but not both at once. Figuring he wasn’t likely to find anything better, Tulekiah draped his father’s gray cloak around his body and tried to go to sleep.

He drifted in and out during the three hours before dawn. The slightest sound scared him awake, and then he would sit, trembling in the blackness, wondering if someone was hovering nearby, waiting for him to give away his location. Eventually he slumped forward with exhaustion, sleeping until the next snapping twig jerked him awake again.

When the first faint trickle of light hit the mountains, Tulekiah gave up on sleep. He stretched his arms and then his legs before quietly shifting his position so that his back pressed against the largest boulder and he could just see through one of the slits in the pile of rocks when he leaned forward on his knees. Tulekiah pulled the hood of his father’s cloak up over his head as far as he could, draping his face in shadow. Now all I have to do is stay motionless until sundown. He winced at the thought. No, just take it a little bit at a time.

The sun brought the mountainside to life. Gadiantons traversed the nearby paths in an almost continuous stream, sometimes in groups, sometimes solo. While most were preoccupied with their journey or their coming exploits, some glanced around with suspicion. Often their gaze lingered on Tulekiah’s hiding place, and he struggled not to move or make a sound.

By late morning, the warm sun creeping through the rocks started to put Tulekiah to sleep. He would startle awake when his head started to droop forward. After hitting his head on the boulder behind him several times when he jumped awake, Tulekiah decided he was better off not fighting. He rested his forehead on his knees and leaned his body against the rocks on his left, hoping the stability of his position would keep him from moving in his sleep.

He was more exhausted than he realized. The next time Tulekiah opened his eyes, the sunlight was melting behind the peaks to the west. In the fading light he saw a Gadianton standing just a few feet away, a look of intense concentration on his face. The certainty that the man was listening and looking for him shot a heavy sensation of fear though Tulekiah’s body. He wondered what noises he had been making in his sleep to alert the man.

Tulekiah remained still, breathing slowly and deeply through barely parted lips. He hoped the man would give up and go away, but as the minutes passed, the Gadianton stayed where he was, his head cocked to one side as he listened. Then the man turned so his entire body faced Tulekiah’s boulders; when he turned, one of the fading shafts of light played across his face and Tulekiah barely stifled his gasp of recognition. Lehonti. If he captures me again, I’m dead. He began desperately praying in his mind, begging the Lord to keep Lehonti from detecting him.

Then the tickle began in his nose.

Tulekiah wriggled his nose, trying to eliminate the sensation, but it remained. As slowly as he could, he brought one hand up and tried to hold his nose tightly with two fingers until the feeling was gone. When he released his nose, the tickle returned. He held his breath and prayed, yet the sensation persisted, and he knew he could not keep the sneeze from escaping. He tried to muffle it against his arm, but Lehonti perceived both the noise and the movement.

With one giant leap, Lehonti was against the boulders; his spear poked through a crack, pressing against Tulekiah’s ribs. “Come out or you die,” the Gadianton demanded.

“It’s a little tight in here,” Tulekiah replied. “If you don’t pull back a bit, I’ll die trying to come out.”

Lehonti chuckled and eased his spear back a few inches. He peered through the rocks. “I’ve heard your voice and your attitude before.”

Tulekiah wiggled his way out of the rocks, glad to be able to stand up straight. “Yeah, but last time I had to leave without my brother.”

“You wear your scars well,” Lehonti said as he studied Tulekiah’s face, moving his head from side to side with the flat side of the spear.

Tulekiah leaned back, at the same time snatching his dagger from its sheath on his leg. But the Gadianton was quick. He slapped the flat side of the spearhead on Tulekiah’s wrist sending the dagger clattering against the rocks. Holding his injured wrist against his body, Tulekiah glared at his captor.

“I am no threat to you! All I want is to see my brother, to speak to him, alone.”

“To what end? Do you not have other brothers? Other family members? Why not let this brother remain with us?”

“If Pacumenihah remains in wickedness, he is lost to me, to my family. He is a part of us; we need him. I need him.”

“You are a tenacious young man.” Lehonti said; his eyes flicked over Tulekiah. “What is your name?”


“Well, Tulekiah, you’ve managed to impress me with your courage.” He lowered his spear. “Meet me at the cave beyond those trees to the north when the moon rises. I think I can arrange a short visit with your brother.”

Tulekiah grabbed his dagger and moved behind the boulders as Lehonti disappeared. His fear and excitement made it nearly impossible for him not to fidget as he waited. Finally a sliver of moon crawled into the sky, and Tulekiah crept from his hiding place toward the cave. When he arrived, he found the cave empty, although a small stack of crates, only partially filled with supplies, and a cooled ring of ashes told him that it had been occupied within the past few days.

Hearing a noise outside, Tulekiah slipped behind the crates and looked cautiously toward the cave entrance. A figure appeared in the opening; the faint moonlight behind the man obscured his features, but Tulekiah knew his brother’s build.

“Pacumenihah,” he whispered as he stood up and moved toward him.

“Tulekiah? What are you doing here?”

Tulekiah reached his hand out toward his brother. “I’ve come to bring you home.”

Pacumenihah laughed, cruel and mocking like Lamechi’s laugh when Tulekiah told him he was there to free his brother. “I’m a Gadianton now, little brother; this is my home.” He took a few steps closer and studied Tulekiah’s features. “Did your beating teach you nothing?”

“I saw you look at me. I saw in your eyes that you could still be the brother I remembered.”

Pacumenihah shook his head. “You saw only pity, Tulekiah. You are my brother; I did not like seeing you in such pain, pain that I could do nothing about. But I have no desire to return with you or to live as our parents would have me live.”

Although Pacumenihah had shaved his head as many of the younger Gadiantons were prone to do, his eyes were still the same deep brown pools Tulekiah remembered. Fine apparel had replaced his worn tunics, and jewels and other luxuries adorned his wrists and neck. But deep down, he must still be Pacumenihah! “You told me you were joining the Gadiantons to protect our family, but our family is incomplete without you. Pacumenihah, the danger to your soul while you reside with these robbers is far worse than any physical danger our family may be in because of them. Please, come back with me.”

“I’m sorry, Tulekiah. In joining the Gadiantons I had to embrace their society. I’m afraid there’s no road back for me. This is where I belong.”

“Pacumenihah, listen to me!” Tulekiah demanded.

“It’s too late,” Pacumenihah growled back. He placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Tulekiah gasped when he saw the small coiled snake painted on the back of Pacumenihah’s hand.


“This must be the last time we meet,” Pacumenihah said with the faintest hint of tenderness. “Farewell, Tulekiah.”

Before Tulekiah could respond, Pacumenihah crept out of the cave and disappeared into the night. He felt numb; his legs lost their ability to hold him up, and he sank to the floor. How could I have come so far only to fail? Tulekiah shook with sobs, but his pain was so great that his tears refused to fall.


Tulekiah’s sobs quieted, and he raised his head.

“You must leave the mountain. As dawn approaches, more guards will be sent to patrol the area; if they find you, you’ll never make it out alive.” Lehonti gestured for him to exit the cave.

“Let them find me. Death can’t be any worse than the crushing hurt I feel at losing Pacumenihah.”

Lehonti sighed with impatience. “If they capture you, and connect you to him, Pacumenihah could die as well.”

Tulekiah rose shakily to his feet. “I came here to save him, not cause his death.” He donned his cloak and hurried on wobbly legs out of the cave.

“This way.” Lehonti led Tulekiah west of the cave to a little-used path. “Few Gadiantons pass this way, especially at night. It will take you to the south end of the village.”

Tulekiah started down the path, and then turned to thank the Gadianton for his help. Lehonti was gone.

Kezreel dropped her grinding stone and ran to embrace Tulekiah when she saw him approaching. He cried out when her arm pressed against his wrist.

“You’re hurt.”

“Just my wrist,” Tulekiah said flatly.

She examined it carefully. “It may be broken; let me wrap it with a poultice and immobilize it; that should ease the pain.”

“No,” he sighed, “nothing can ease my pain.”

“What happened?” Kezreel asked.

“I saw Pacumenihah, alone, just as I wanted.” Tulekiah pressed the back of his hand into his eyes. “He refused to come back with me.”

Kezreel wrapped her arms around her son and held him as he cried for his brother. Several minutes passed before Tulekiah was able to compose himself.

“Why did the Lord let me go? Why was I able to see him, but not save him?” Tulekiah asked when he finally pulled out of his mother’s embrace.

“I don’t know, Tulekiah. Maybe the Lord knew that you needed to see him again. Maybe someday the memory will help Pacumenihah. We may never know.”

“I wish I’d been caught and beaten again rather than feel this aching hole in my heart.”

“With time, it will ease.” Kezreel hooked her arm through Tulekiah’s and headed into the house.

A few nights after his return, Tulekiah lay awake on his blankets; the throbbing in his injured wrist kept him from sleeping. Some of Pacumenihah’s belongings still sat in the corner of the room, near the door. Tulekiah slowly stood up and moved over to look at them. Many times he had sat next to the small pile afraid to disturb the items and upset the chances that Pacumenihah was coming back. This time he reached in and sorted through the stuff.

He held up Pacumenihah’s extra tunic and robe. They’re in decent shape, and they should fit me. I’m always ripping my clothes anyway. Tulekiah set the clothing aside and picked up a small braided leather bracelet. A single turquoise stone decorated the middle. Rubbing his finger over the stone, Tulekiah sighed and closed his eyes.

Pacumenihah found the stone when we went hunting in the South Wilderness, near the sea. Father bought the leather in Melek on the journey home and made the bracelet for him. Tulekiah let the bracelet slip from his hand. He treasured it above any of his possessions.

“Tulekiah?” The voice came from the other side of the hide that covered the doorway.

Tulekiah felt his heart leap with hope. “Pacumenihah?” he whispered as he moved to the curtain door and pulled it aside.

A Gadianton stood in front of him, but not Pacumenihah. “Lehonti?” Tulekiah almost didn’t recognize him without his fancy robes and his decorated spear. He had several cuts on his upper arms and a gash in his stomach bled freely. “What happened?”

Lehonti shrugged and tried to smile. “Once a Gadianton, always a Gadianton. Lamechi didn’t take the news of my departure well.”

Tulekiah was about to ask more, but Lehonti started to wobble. He moved forward and caught the robber before he hit the ground. “I’ll get my mother; she’ll know how to help you.”

Lehonti’s eyes fluttered, but he reached out and grabbed Tulekiah’s hand. “Wait. I don’t have much strength. I need you to know that you didn’t fail.”

“Pacumenihah is coming home?”

The Gadianton swallowed hard and looked away from Tulekiah’s hopeful eyes. “No. But you did save someone, Tulekiah. You saved me.”

13: Young Hagoth Plays It Safe

by Theric Jepson

Jarom was old. His skin was tight rather than wrinkled and the sunbeams from the window caught his long white beard as he entered the room. His robe was a simple brown, but embroidered with enough detail to make it expensive. He cleared his throat and leaned against a stool as he looked over them. His voice was strong but scratched, as if he had let a cat play with it before joining the boys as they sat on short stools intended for much younger students.

“My dear boys about to become men,” he said, fixating them all with his eyes that seemed to jump around the room like frying bacon, “because manhood follows boyhood as surely as boyhood precedes manhood and manhood having always followed boyhood, it is necessary that you, being hoys, thus men-to-be, must prepare to be the men you will become while you still are the boys you must be before becoming the men you will become after you cease to be the boys you are now—it is good to see your smiling faces. Before becoming men—while you are still boys—it is incumbent upon you, and incumbent upon me as your teacher in this year between boyhood and manhood, and incumbent upon society that frankly needs more men than boys, to decide and embark upon the path of manhoodian labors in which you will spend the rest of your days and to do so in a sensible manner with the proper instruction and opportunities for observation and so forth. And so in these coming months you will be given opportunity to meet with and visit with and talk with and sit with and listen to and so forth under all the men in this great city, even Zarahemla, whom this year are seeking boys to become men under their tutelage as apprentices of their craft that their excellence of skills and knowledge may pass fully unto a new generation and things will be as great or greater than they are now.”

Jarom paused and took a sip of water from a finely carved wooden mug that was somehow hidden within the stool then brushed down his beard before continuing. “But that is not all of course. It is well enough to learn to be a man from another man or other men as in the case of an apprenticeship in leading warriors into battle or dungmongering, an occupation often underappreciated by those who just get their food at market and never think about where it actually comes from. But also you must learn to be a man from yourself. For a man should not be any man, a man should be his own man, the only man that a man can be, at least fully, you understand.” Jarom frowned and looked sternly at them as if he were worried they might willfully misunderstand him. “And so you will plot your future with care and ambition and so forth. Your opportunities are grand this year. Enom the silversmith is looking take on up to two apprentices. Importers and tailors are looking for apprentices. Of course, as always, half a dozen lawyers or so. And the highlight this year, great Mulek, son of Amaron of the great house of armourers making the greatest armor this nation or any nation has ever known or ever will and all the great things they’ve done for us keeping people alive and so forth. Of course,” and here he chuckled, “you’ll have to beat our young Hagoth for that position, so . . . heh. Anyway.”

All the other rich men’s boys looked over at Hagoth who looked at his hands and tried to think of something other than his father, armor, or the gas he was struggling to keep inside his body. Why hadn’t anyone reminded him that drinking goat’s milk for breakfast always gave him the poots?

“Today we will start by visiting Mikal who leads the temple guardians, Boron whose imports allow our best men to look their finest, and, speaking of clothes, we’ll see someone who makes them, someone who sells them and,” he chuckled, “the local boatmaker.”

Hagoth had no idea Zarahemla still had a boatmaker. His father Mulek hadn’t made fun of him in months and besides, what did Zarahemla really need a boatmaker for, anyway? Hagoth had only been to the sea—and on a boat—once, in Morianton, when he was three, before his mother died. It was his first memory—and the only one of her. She was telling his father to shut up. He treasured that memory. Boats were great. But in Zarahemla?

Boron, for instance, didn’t use boats. Basically he just snuck into Lamanite lands, killed birds, then sold their feathers. “It’s exciting, it’s dangerous, it’s profitable, and you can always keep a feather for yourself. No better way to impress the ladies. You’re all old enough to know what really matters.”

All the potential masters met them dressed in their best finery until the boatmaker, Lehonti, who came to his shop door dressed in a holey sackcloth tunic and worn woolen pants—reminding them that no matter what the clothing hawker had said, wool was not traditional finery.

The boatmaker sneezed, spraying tobacco juice all over Jarom’s young charges. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Bit of a cold.” He wiped his nose on his forearm, leaving a trail of snot in the hair that glistened in the afternoon sun like a small army of slugs. “So,” he slurred. “Boats.” He nodded and slapped the doorway to his shop. “Let’s go in.”

The shop was dark and smelled of dust and tar and rotted fruit and that unpleasant mix of regret and desperation usually only present at public executions.

Lehonti stopped in front of a tiny, half-formed boat. “This is the best we can do around here. River’s too shallow for anything worthwhile.”

He belched in a way not reminiscent of the music of the sea. “Sorry,” he said to Jarom. “Been a rough week. Bad year. Lousy career.” He laughed then turned to Jarom’s students. “Which is why I’m gonna try extra hard to convince one of you to apprentice with me this year: I need new ideas and I don’t have an heir.”

The truth, as Hagoth well knew for his father often spoke of it, was that every girl Lehonti had ever liked, Mulek had wooed away with trinkets and bobbles and all for a laugh at Lehonti’s expense. He had also punched him once after Lehonti got betrothed then married the girl. That was Hagoth’s mother.

Lehonti collaped onto a sawdusty bench and sneezed on them again—their feet and sandals. “Look at you,” he said and they did look at each other, wondering who might smell badly enough to end up here. “In a few months you’ll put on those fancy presentations and talk about your big plans. Then you’ll all get apprenticed and start doing a job and never think about your big plans again. And neither will nobody else. Jarom don’t remember mine, do you?”

Jarom was silent and dignified as he brushed a bit of sawdust from his robe then tried to snatch it back from the air when it caught an updraft.

“Yeah. I was gonna turn this city into a major river port. As if the water here’d ever be deep enough for anything bigger than that bit of dung sitting half-made over there.” He belched again. “Excuse me. I need to medicate. Any questions about boats?”

Hagoth had several. A port? Where would ships go? To the sea? Was it true that on the sea people still moved more stuff than just fishing tackle—like in the old days of Father Lehi? Was it possible to go far from the shore? Was it true anyone who did, who left the Promised Land, was cursed? Are you still mad about all those girls my father stole from you? What was my mother like? But before he knew which to start with, Lehonti saw him and spat on the ground.

“Mulek’s kid.” It wasn’t a question. “I’m sure your big plans’ll stick. Just like your dad’s did and his dad’s. You’ll be prancing around in your finery soon enough. Already are from the looks of it. So. Kid. How you gonna save us. I bet you’re making armor won’t nobody die.”

“I—” Hagoth knew the right answer. His father had already written out his goal for him, even though Hagoth wasn’t even supposed to start deciding on a field for another two months. He would say, “I, Hagoth, son of Mulek the son of Amaron and heir of a great tradition of saving the lives of our nation’s noblest warriors, do hereby declare my intention that should another war ever arise—which thing I dearly hope not—I shall reinvent the great contributions of my forebears and craft an armor stronger and safer and lighter than any before. I will begin by investigating means to better flexibility in breastplates by improving upon the layering technique invented by my father.” And as his father had already perfected that improvement for him so in about eighteen months Hagoth would be paraded in Zarahemla as a prodigy, an already accomplished genius, and the money would start rolling in all over again.

Which was all well and good except Hagoth was pretty sure he would never repeat that first success. After one fake success it would be pure failure from then on out. Hagoth had embarrassed himself more than once by failing to fasten his robes or tunic properly before leaving home in the morning. The idea of actually designing clothes—let alone ones meant to keep people alive—he couldn’t quite imagine it, destiny or no.

“. . . but given most fishermen and ferriers just build and maintain their own boats, it’s not like you’ll ever see a Zarahemla boatmaker parading about in finery. Course, if’n my original plan to persuade us all ‘to become an aquatic nation, trading with our neighbors upon holy waters’ suddenly happens, then suuuure. But I failed. Obviously. And so will alla you. Cept for Mulek’s kid cause nothing never goes wrong for them.”

Almost as if these were the words Jarom had been waiting for, he said, “Thank you, Lehonti. Always a pleasure. This way, boys.”

They filed out behind him, but Hagoth lingered. He wanted to touch the half-formed shell, run his hand along its curved wood.

Lehonti staggered over to him, taking a bag of wine from the shell on his way. “Hey.”


“Tell your father than I hear in some nations wars are fought on water. And I’m looking for a partner in making war boats, okay?”

Hagoth nodded. His father hated boats. And the sea, for that matter. And Lehonti.

“Okay. But I’m not sure—”

“Just tell your brotherslaying father, okay? It wouldn’t kill ya!”

“Okay. I will.” And Hagoth ran away without any of the grace with which the boat in Morianton had borne him along.


“So,” Mulek said as he ripped the turkey meat from the bone. “Who’d you go see on your first day?”

“Um, some kind of fabric maker, a clothing merchant, a feather importer, a temple guardian, and, um, and, a boatmaker.”

“What? Not Lehonti!”

“Yes, sir.”

“I can’t believe Jarom took you to see that brotherslayer. Like he needs an apprentice. So how’s the old drunk doing?”

“He’s, uh, drunk.”

Mulek laughed loudly and appreciatively, spitting wine down the front of his tunic. Not that it mattered. He could afford more and finer.

“He, uh, he said in some places wars are fought on boats. He wondered if you’d be interested.”

“Mulek curled his lip. “ Stupid as ever. Shame I’m too respectable to dump him in the wastepits anymore.”

“But—it’s not—boats aren’t too bad, right? It’s just—Lehonti you don’t like.”

Mulek shrugged. “What’s the difference. Maybe there are people somewhere who live on water, but not Nephites. Nephi only built a boat to get here. And now we’re here! Any fool who would chase the water would be laughed at for three generations. Like they say, God made fish and God made Nephites, but he did not make Nephites fish.”


“Three generations! Lehonti’s proof of this. Now even his soul floats!” Mulek laughed at his own joke, but Hagoth had never understood why it wouldn’t be better for a soul to float. Who wants to sink?

“We’re sinking,” cries the boat-running assistant. “We will die!”

Hagoth however stands stern, watching his boat fill with water. “We didn’t come into the ocean this far just to sink. Think of your soul!”

“My soul doesn’t float! What, are you crazy?”

“You’re on the sea now!” declares Hagoth. “It had better float.”

“When are you coming to see me?”

Hagoth shook his head. “I don’t know. Jarom hasn’t told you?”

“No.” His father pushed aside the rest of the turkey carcass. “Take that to the dogs and send a runner to Jarom. Tell him to come tomorrow. I’ll get the taste of that brotherslayer out of your mouths.”


Hagoth stood with his father and Jarom as the other boys watched and waited and tried to listen. Jarom was wearing a new and vibrantly blue wool tunic he had been given yesterday by the merchant, and a crown of brightly colored feathers from the importer.

“Yes, they’re very nice,” said Mulek, “but you don’t need armor and we both know I can get whatever apprentice I want. Sit down and listen with the boys.”

Jarom furrowed his brow, kicked at the floor, and walked to a corner to pout behind the beard, reaching up occasionally to finger his feathers.

“Now you all know what you’re doing,” said Mulek in his booming voice, walking over to the boys as Haboth tried to skip around him so he could sit down and be normal. “You’re all supposed to figure out how to improve our city and the world. And you probably also know that most people never actually do that. But seriously, what good can a single potter or weaver actually do in their life? But armourers? We are different. When my father Amaron invented the modern breastplate we immediately saw a drop in casualties. And my goal was to improve upon his improvements and many of you were sired because I kept your fathers alive. And thanks to that prick Moroni—”


“Oh. Little Moronihah. Didn’t see you there. Tell your father I said hi. But as I was saying, thanks to that prick Moroni, my designs were forced to be shared among all the cities’ armourers which was of course, in the end, an enlightened decision—tell him I said that, kid—that saved many lives.”

And, as Hagoth well knew, made his father a lot of money. His father being his father had found a way to earn a portion from every breastplate every one of those armourers ever made.

“So it is possible, at the end of this process, to make a goal that will change the nation. And I guarantee you that whoever is selected to be my apprentice, I will do all I can to assure their success at meeting their goal.”

“Yes, Hagoth, sir. A new land! You found it! You found it! You met your goal!”

Hagoth nodded. Of course he had. What doubt had their ever been?

His father gave all the boys a single shinguard and as they left the armoury, they broke sticks off the tree Hagoth’s mother had planted and started hitting each other.


Throwing up had put Hagoth behind the rest of the boys and now he scanned the knoll. The twins were hiding in the shadows of a heavily vined tree at the edge of the garden and he walked over to join them.

“Hi, Hagoth.”

“Hi, Mahujah.”

“Hi, world-changing-armormaker.”

“Shut up, Mahijah.”

Mahijah and Mahujah laughed. “What’s for lunch?”

Hagoth sat down across from them. “Just some jerky and a corn patty.”

Mahijah slapped his forehead in shock. “Curelom jerky? Wow!”

“It’s not curelom. Curelom’s too expensive to just turn it into jerky.”

“All the more reason for your dad to do it.”

Hagoth couldn’t argue with that, so instead he said, “You can’t even get curelom anymore.” He bit into his patty.

Mahujah burped. “What does curelom taste like, anyway?”

“Just like, you know, like turkey. They’re almost the same.”

Both twins choked. “Turkey? Why would anyone spend that much on turkey?”

Hagoth rolled his eyes. “My father.”

“What, does he even vomit money now? Is that what you were doing?”

“No.” Hagoth chewed and swallowed. “But even though I threw up, that was awesome when he flipped the goat’s heart out through its throat.”

“Yes!” Mahijah jumped up to mime the action. “Let’s be butchers!”

The twins, no surprise, wanted to go into business together but the butcher was only looking for one apprentice. The only masters looking for two apprentices this year were the silversmith, the loom guy, and the manager of the city’s walls.

“No way we’re doing the walls.”

“No way,” agreed Mahujah. “And wool was never considered fine apparel before last year, so that’s not going to last.”

“But that might make it the perfect choice,” argued Mahijah. “We could make it permanently fashionable! Then wool’s value will go up and we could make real money!”

“Nah,” said Hagoth. “It won’t last. Who wants to wear wool in the summer? That guy’s a dope if he really thinks he needs two apprentices. Want some jerky?”

He held it out to them but they waved it away.

“Oh no. I’m much too poor to eat curelom.”

“It’s not curelom.”

“Hey!” One twin punched the other. “We could farm cureloms!”

Hagoth rolled his eyes. “First you have to find one.”

Mahujah giggled. “You need two.”

Mahijah smirked. “Looks like Hagoth won’t be getting that baby-making apprenticeship.”

“What do you mean no one on board knows how to make babies?” Hagoth yells at his assistant. “How will we people the new land!”

But that was too silly even for him.


Mulek smeared the boar grease from his chin across his cheek and laughed loudly, the men around the table laughing with him. “Good one, Levi! Ha! That’d show him! But seriously, Moroni’s definitely going to be checking every city looking for the cheapest price on breastplates. We can’t let him break us.”

“Like he did his nose!” yelled Levi, and they all laughed again.

Hagoth meanwhile sat in his corner with his plate of boar and lentils and drifted away.

Moroni is with his army on the seashore, trapped by the Lamanite hoardes with his back to the sea. “Whadllwedo?” whimpers his lieutenant. But Moroni atands stoically, staring out to sea, his crooked nose casting a shadow on the sparkling waves in the fading light or possibly the growing light depending on where—the sea’s to the west, right? so where’s that put his nose?—anyway, in the fading light. He closes his eyes briefly and decides to use his faith thing and says “God will save us” and at that moment a sail appears on the horizon and Moroni’s war face cracks momentarily as he whispers, “God—or Hagoth?”


Hagoth jumped, sending his plate and himself to the floor. (“Like the leather market,” joked Levi and all the men, once again, laughed.) Hagoth stood and brushed himself off. “Yes, father?”

“Omner’s leaving for Morianton tonight. Carry his bags to the gate.”

“Yes, father.”

Mulek stood and clasped arms with Omner, commending him for being the most profitable of them all this past year as Hagoth figured out which bags were his. Omner joined him shortly and directed his attention to the proper bags. They were heavy, but as they walked from the house, Hagoth still found the breath to ask him about the sea. “Do you ever go out on the boats?”

“What? No. Do I look like a fisherman?”

“But you’ve seen the sea beasts?”

“A time or two. But until we have fishermen brave enough to slay them, what do I care? Besides, watching the sea is for simpletons and prayers. I’m a man of business. Like your father.”

Hagoth tried to think of a question to follow that and Omner laughed at his scrunched-up face.

“I’ll tell you one story of the sea, though.”


“When I was a boy, a man and his boat crashed upon our shore. His hair was darker than even a Lamanite’s though his skin was much like our own. He was not well—nearly dead from the lack of fresh water. On his boat we found devices of curious workmanship. He spoke no language known to our scholars and died before he could learn ours and so we know not what land he came from, what goals he had, or the purposes of the devices he carried. Nor could we recreate their manner of craft. But we still have them. His boat we burned in honor of his journey.”

“Wow. So—do you think he was from Jerusalem?”

“No, no. Wrong sea.”

“Wrong sea?”

“In Lamanite lands there is another sea. Or so the Lamanites say. I would call it jealousy save those are the ancestral lands and our fathers must have landed somewhere if you believe the old stories.”

“You have boatmakers in Morianton?”

“Of course, a few. Fishermen must fish. And marlin is the curelom of the sea, but there is danger in going out that far.”

“Then why do they do it.”

“Because men like me will pay for it. We can afford to lose a few fishermen for the occasional marlin. When you’re an apprentice, come see me. I will feed you marlin.”

“Thank you.”

“Ah, Hagoth. Not marlin again!”

Hagoth looked across the table at his assistant. “Land-livers would kill for this meal, yet you complain. Have you no shame?”

“I’m sorry. I’m a fool.”

“That’s right you are.”


Only a week left of visits, Jarom reminded them as they went into the brewer’s. The brewer had laid out mugs of different beers for their inspection and most of the boys were crowded around learning about a brewer’s life. The more religious kids hung back and Hagoth stayed with them. He hated the smell of beer. Much better the smell of the sea. He couldn’t really remember that smell, but no doubt it was lovely.

In fact, the sea smelled like . . . fish tacos . . . only . . . less spicy. Like the cook had added too much salt and not enough chili peppers. The salty fish-taco air sprayed foam like beer upon the top of the boat where brave Hagoth stood, his hands on his hips. He had been upon the sea for a month or two or however long it takes to get far enough from land to make it all disappear and look like there’s only water in the world. That far. Hagoth was searching for a new land. And he would find one. Perhaps he would have to contend with giants or with . . . giant spiders or . . . giant mushrooms—with claws!—but he would find a new land. And when he found that new land he would


“Uh? What? Yes?” Hagoth checked the corner of his mouth for drool as a beer-soaked towel smacked him across the face. He pulled it off and looked around. He was alone in the brewery. The brewer laughed at him and pointed to the door, where echoes of the twins’ laughter trickled through. Hagoth wiped his face on his sleeve and hurried after them.


Hagoth stood looking at his father. “About the goal presentations.”

“You have yours memorized?”

“Yes, but—”

“Good, good. Go practice some more. Work on inflection.”

“But I—”

“If you want to add something about metal clasps instead of leather ties, go ahead. I’ve decided we can charge another senum-per without rebellion and they won’t cost us even close to that.”


Hagoth watches his feet as he walks to the back part of the boat.

“What is wrong?” His assistant looks at him with worried eyes. “Is it the waves?”

“No, no.” He straightens his shoulders. “I am a man of the sea. And we men of the sea make our own destiny.”


The clothmaker had a loud generous laugh that quaked his belly and filled the room. “C’mon! You all know it! That smell! It’s piss!” He laughed again. “Maybe I’ll have you all donate to the vat before you go.”

The boys all laughed and elbowed each other even as their faces paled.

“Oh, come now. Take that green tunic.” He pointed at Hagoth. “I’m the only man in the land what can make that shade. And no, I won’t tell you how to do it at home. Well, maybe one of you—in a couple months—am I right? am I right? But I will tell you how to make the color stick to the cloth. And that’s with piss. Soak it in piss.

All the boys pointed at Hagoth’s tunic and giggled.

“Yes,” he said to his crew. “Yes, the sea can smell like piss sometimes, but that’s why it’s so good at making virtue stick to your soul. The sea makes good men better and better men great. Take my tunic for example….”


The parents and masters and a few priests sat on the low stools—they looked like they were playing peekaboo behind their knees—as if in commemoration of these near-men’s ending boyhoods. Based on the number of those gathered today wearing wool even in the heat and humidity, Hagoth thought the twins may have made the right decision. He was with the rest of the boys, leaning against the walls at the back of the room.

When Jarom entered the room, the silversmith stood and walked to him. His forearms were wrapped in silver snakes; his fingers coated with rings and thimbles, his ears and nose decorated enough to make them hang; the headdress he wore shot silver sunrays into the air above him, with small silver birds and angels hanging from them making a tinkling sound as he held Jarom’s arms and spoke to him. They laughed as they pointed at some of the boys. Before returning to his seat, he removed the sun from his head and handed it to Jarom who shook slightly as he took it and placed it on his head, smashing the three feathercrowns already there.
Jarom stood and nodded solemnly at those assembled as they looked at him from above their knees.

“Yes, hello, hello,” he said. “Today is that day which all boys wait for while they are boys until the day they become men because that day is the day they no longer need to wait for it is the day they cease to be boys and become men. Today is the day they announce their plans for improving out society and—”

The crowd started clapping which startled Jarom, but when they didn’t stop he smiled and waved at the crowd and then gestured to the first boy to come up.

One by one Hagoth’s peers stood and gave their spiels, lofty goals doomed to failure. No matter how much you want to cut them up, a butcher can’t return curelom to the table. No matter how much you want to make finery finer, if silver can’t be made into thread, it can’t be made into thread.



“What are you thinking?”

Hagoth sighs and looks deep into the sea. Hundreds of feet below him, the beasts engaged in their ageless dances.”I was thinking how few of the boys I grew up with were able to predict how plain their lives would actually be.”

“Oh.” Silence. “What was your goal?”

“Oh, just ‘to conquer the seas and discover new lands and bring wealth and honor and glory of an entirely new sort to my father and my city and my nation.’ I had memorized it perfectly. I had practiced it. I was to ‘ride the waves of fortune’ and ‘feel the soul of mother water in my feet’ and all sorts of things. And look. Here I am. The exception. The rare success.”

“And now Hagoth, son of Mulek, son of Amaron, will present his decision and request and then I will present him to his new master. Wonder who that might be?” Jarom led those gathered in laughter.

Hagoth walked to the front and stood looking over. His father’s stern face, the twin’s happiness at being in wool, the priests trying to hold their robes together with their knees poking into the air. Back in the corner by the door, an ill-dressed boatmaker leaning against a wall.

“I, Hagoth, son of Mulek the son of Amaron and heir of a great tradition of saving the lives of our nation’s noblest warriors, do hereby declare my intention that—”

Everyone held their breath.

“Only you can save us, Hagoth!”

The sea beast crawled onto the ship, the rain and wind whipping his many lips, revealing jaws filled with thousands of needle teeth. The beast snapped. Hagoth strapped on his father’s armor and walked forward. It would not do to fail.”

“—my intention that—should another war ever arise—which thing I dearly hope not—I shall reinvent the great contributions of my forebears and craft an armor stronger and safer and lighter than any before. I will begin by investigating means to better flexibility in breastplates by improving upon the layering technique invented by my father.”

Everyone clapped and Mulek leapt to the stage and, wearing an atypical smile, slapped an arm around his son.

Hagoth smiled back. After all—maybe he would fail.

12: Star Bright

Sirrea paused as she gathered sugarcane to marvel at the precision with which her father and Jacom, his new apprentice, toppled the evergreens. Even in the shade of the rain forest, Jacom’s dark hair and bare arms glistened with perspiration. Perhaps timber was a more strenuous trade than the cocoa bean business to which he was accustom in Gidion.

Jacom was just a year older than Sirrea’s sixteen years. Though they had been childhood friends until his family had moved eight years previously, he hadn’t spoken more than a few words to her since returning to Melek.

Jacom’s father Heth and Sirrea’s father Caleb had been partners in the lumber trade, harvesting logs from the dense forest and shipping them to the Land Northward by way of the West Sea. When Heth had taken his family to Gidion to care for his aging parents, he promised to send Jacom back when he was of age.

Jacom was a hard worker, to be sure but there was an air of defiance about him, real or imagined. Did he resent being sent away from his family to work for another, or did he dislike being thrust in with a family of believers in the prophecies of Samuel?

The rising opposition, as time for the fulfillment of the sign drew near, simmered like a pot on the verge of boiling over. As the believers looked anxiously for the day, night and day with no darkness, former friends turned against them. They mocked their supposed foolishness and uttered profane threats. The unbeliever’s anger was fueled that so many had believed the words of their enemy. Though there was currently peace with the Lamanites, they held deep prejudices against them. When some believed the words of Samuel, a Lamanite, as he stood on the walls of the capital city, Zarahemla, they felt betrayed.

Sirrea’s attention was drawn to a white bird with pink and red wings and legs. Its beak resembled a long handled spoon. As she admired the colorful bird, a flash of light glinted in the palm leaves behind it, like sunshine off of something metal.

A terrified scream rang through trees! “Ca-leb!”

It was her mother’s voice. Sirrea turned and ran toward their house. Her father and Jacom left the saw half way through the tree and followed her. Smoke was rising from their thatched roof. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered a shriek of pain.

Miriam, Sirrea’s mother was franticly scooping water from a cement cistern beside the door and throwing it desperately at the flames spreading toward the loft. With her small stature, she was only able to douse those closest to the roof’s sloping edge. Jacom leapt upon the cistern and with the aid of a nearby shade tree, swung onto the roof. Sirrea snatched a copper pot from inside the house, swiftly filled and handed it up to him.

They put the fire out quickly. “There is no structural damage but the roof will need to be thatched again before the rainy season,” Jacom called down.

With the fire out Miriam collapsed against the cistern and began to sob. Caleb took her gently into his arms, stroking her dark hair. “There, there, all will be right. Please, can you tell me how this happened?”

“Th-th-ree m-e-n ,” she stammered. “Painted as Lamanite warriors. They swung machetes and clubs. I thought they would kill me. They called me a filthy believer and said we would all die.” She pulled away, looked up into Caleb’s face, took a calming breath and continued. “One pulled the scarf from my hair and lit it in the cooking fire” She nodded toward the circular pit near the cistern, over which a pot was now steaming . “He threw it on the roof. When I screamed, they left.”

“My dear Miriam. How frightened you must have been.” He shook his head. “Lamanites, I don’t understand.”

“But they weren’t Lamanites. They were only dressed and painted as them.”

Sirrea, Jacom and Caleb all looked startled. “But why…who…” started Sirrea.

“They were Nephite,” Miriam continued, “and I recognized one.”

“Ohhhh….help….please.” The moan had come from the work area just thirty yards away, yet so faint it was nearly undetectable.

Sirrea suddenly remembered the shriek of pain she had heard a few moments before. Jacom started to run in the direction of the pitiful plea.

“Jacom! Stay with Miriam.” Caleb commanded. “Sirrea come with me.”

When she reached the work area, he was already kneeling next to a small boy. She quickly knelt beside him. He was Nephite, though a feeble attempt at a Lamanite disguise had been made. He was approximately ten and bleeding badly from a deep gash extending from the right side of his bare chest and across his upper arm. A blood tainted machete, lay at his side. The boy was moaning softly, his face milk white.

“Sirrea, run quickly and bring bandages.” She leapt up and ran but at the edge of the forest she was met by Jacom and her mother who had anticipated the need. Miriam carried a basket full of bulky cloth. The boy was close to unconsciousness with pain and blood loss. The lapse before he had been found was critical time lost. The boy’s only chance was to stop the blood pouring from the wound in his chest. Caleb took a large piece of cloth, and rolled it into a long pad. Then laying it over the wound, he placed his arm over the bandage and pressed.

Tears were streaming down Miriam’s face. Her hand covered her mouth and her eyes were closed. Sirrea knew she was praying. Tears were building in her own eyes as she tried to blink them away. Failing, she quickly brushed them with the back of her hand. She glanced at Jacom; their eyes met. He shook his head sadly, slowly. He didn’t think the boy was going to make it.

All three knelt down beside the boy. Miriam took the shawl off her own shoulders and placed it tenderly over the small body as best she could without interfering with Caleb’s work.

Jacom leaned close to the boy and spoke softly. “Can you tell us your name and your family?” he said, gently stroking the boy’s hair as he spoke. Sirrea recognized a tenderness in Jacom she had never imagined.

The boy struggled to speak “I…I am Da… Damar. …. tripped trying to… follow father…help him….my…father…”

It was just too much for him. His eyes closed and body became limp. Caleb put his ear next to the boy’s mouth and nose, feeling for air. “He is still breathing but it is very weak”

From what they could tell without removing the pad, the bleeding had finally subsided but he had already lost a dangerous amount. Caleb didn’t remove the pad but held it in place with long strips of cloth wrapped around the boy’s torso and arm. Caleb at the boy’s shoulders and Jacom at his legs, carried him to the house. Sirrea and her mother followed solemnly.

Once inside the house they carried him into the master bedroom and placed him on the bed. Caleb spoke, his face nearly ashen with foreboding. “I do not know the significance of the events of this day, but evil is stalking us. For now, we may only do what we can. I dare not leave Miriam alone to fetch a healer, nor send Sirrea alone. Jacom, I cannot require you to accompany her nor to stay in my employment under these circumstances. You may also be in danger. I can only request so with heavy heart.”

Jacom bowed slightly. “You have been fair and good to me. I would not abandon you at such a time. I will accompany Sirrea to bring the healer. Time only may tell of my continued employment.”

Caleb took a short sword from a hook on the wall and handed it to Jacom. “I pray you will not need this but…”

Jacom, nodded, took the sword and secured it with the braided sash around his waist. They slipped out of the house and hurried along the forest edge toward a line of business awnings that comprised Meleks’s business district. The sun was just beginning to set over the west hills. They passed displays of sugar cane, bananas, pineapple and other fruits. A heavy set man in a brown tunic with was just lowering the lattice awning over a display of copper jewelry and cooking pots. A wooden sign hung on the lower portion of the display. Healer, Inquire Within, was written in bold white lettering.

“Please,” began Sirrea, “are you the healer?”

“I am a copper merchant by necessity and a healer by choice, what might I do for you?” he said, reaching under the display for a bulging leather bag.

She quickly explained the accident and boy’s condition while Jacom peered around cautiously in the deepening shadows.

When they arrived at the house, it was nearly dark. Caleb was outside keeping watch. Sirrea, showed the healer into the master bedroom. Miriam was sponging the still unconscious boy’s face.

“Thank you for coming so quickly,” she said to the healer.

He nodded and stepped to the boy. After his initial examination, he shook his head slowly. “I am afraid he has lost too much blood. He will likely never awaken.”

Miriam and Sirrea both gasped. “Can nothing be done for him?” Miriam pled.

“I will close the wound, but do not expect too much. I am not a worker of miracles. I cannot extract the blood from the ground and pour it back into his veins.”

“We understand,” said Caleb from the door way. Do what you are able; we can only leave him in the hands of God.”

They watched in silence as the healer took a fine bone needle and a length of silk from his bag, threaded the needle and began stitching closed the gaping wound. They went into the cooking area near the entrance while the healer finished his work and talked softly.

“We must learn who this boy is. His family needs to be notified,” said Caleb.

“Yes, but how can we and not bring more evil upon us? He was painted as a Lamanite warrior the same as those who tried to burn the house. He must be from the unbelievers,” said Miriam in a near panic.

“And they outnumber us by many times,” Sirrea added.

Jacom had been sitting quietly looking from speaker to speaker. “Perhaps it is not my place to speak…”

“You are most welcome to speak Jacom. At least for now, I consider you part of this family.”

Jacom nodded appreciatively. “I believe they are right. If this boy is indeed the child of, what you term an unbeliever, he could well be the catalyst to ignite their full fury. Even though his injury was not our fault, they will they will use it for their purpose, however dark.”

The healer entered the room, bag in hand. “The wound is closed. He did not stir. The next twenty four hours will tell if he should live or die.” He looked at Caleb. “If you are a praying man, pray for a miracle, you will need it.”

“Are you then a believer?” asked Caleb. “Do you believe in the coming of the Messiah?”

“In the current emotional climate I dare not confirm nor deny that affiliation. I must be free to treat both the believer and unbeliever, which brings me to a point I must, for your sakes make.”

“What is it?” gasped Sirrea.

“I thought I recognized my young patient but it is now confirmed. He has a very distinctive scar which I remember stitching. He is the son of Nahor the silk merchant.”

All color drained from Miriam face. “No! Oh dear God of Abraham, no!”

“What is it my love?” asked Caleb grasping both of her trembling hands in his.

“Nahor is the man I recognized! The one that started the fire.”

“I am not surprised Nahor would do such a thing,” said the healer. “He is one of the most vocal of the unbelievers in Melek. I have done business with him and many times he has spouted his hateful rhetoric. As a healer I am obligated to inform him of his son’s whereabouts and condition but it will, no doubt, put your family at greater risk.”

“Would it risk the boy’s life further to transport him to another location?” questioned Caleb.

“I could not, in good conscience recommend it. If the bleeding starts again, he is finished.”

Caleb dropped his head into his hands and a sound of anguish escaped. “Please,” he said, “could you give us a little time to prepare before you inform him?”

“I have several families in need of my services in this area. I can only give you until I am finished, no more than three hours.”

“Understood and much appreciated,” said Caleb as he watched the healer walk out the door and into the night. “Let us pray for a miracle,” he said turning back toward the others.


When the prayer was concluded, a sudden thought entered Sirrea’s mind. “Father I have heard of miracles wrought by Nephi. Is it not he who baptized us?”

“Nephi, that baptized us after we heard the teaching of Samuel, has gone and no one knows where. Perhaps God took him unto himself, but his son Nephi is also a man of great faith, and stands in his stead.”

“Could we not summon this man if he be a worker or Miracles?” Asked Jacom.

Sirrea, Miriam and Caleb all looked curiously at Jacom. “You have said nothing of your beliefs. Do you also believe the words of Samuel?” asked Sirrea. “Your family was in Gideon at the time of his prophecy.”

“I know not the teachings of the Lamanite prophet, only what I have heard you speak of the impending sign. But I am a believer in the coming of the Messiah. The scriptures truly testify of him.”

“I am most happy at this news Jacom.” I have long hoped my friend Heth would share this belief,” said Caleb.

“In reality neither my father nor any of my family share my belief. I have studied in secret.”

“I am so sorry Jacom,” said Sirrea. “I did not know, but I honor your faith and bravery.”

He smiled sadly. “If I had been brave, my faith would not have been in secret. Now, how may we contact this man of faith?”

“His estate is near Zarahemla. There is not time to fetch him.”

“But father,” said Sirrea, “we must try. What other choice have we?”

Caleb put his fingers to his temples in deep thought. “We have prayed for a miracle. We should do all we can to bring it about. First we must warn your sisters’ families and the other believers in the area of the danger. If we band together we may be able to avoid bloodshed. If Jacom is willing to accompany you, you can alert the seven households along the main road on the way to Zarahemla. I will warn the households close enough to keep our house in sight and ask them to notify others they may know. We must act quickly. Take both horses. Make sure you are not followed.”

Miriam had an expression of concern. “Miriam, my dear, they should be more safe there than here. If not for the care of the boy, I should rather you go with them,” said Caleb.

“Oh course you are right. We must do something.” Quickly she stepped to the food pantry, wrapped an ample block of goat cheese and filled a leather pouch with various nuts. These she handed to Jacom, along with an empty water bag. “Fill this at the cistern.” She plucked a dark blue garment from a peg near the door and handed it to Sirrea. “Take my traveling cloak; it will keep you warm in the night air. Go now before more time is lost. I will tend to the boy.”


They had pushed the horses hard, along the moonlit road until stopping at the agreed upon spring.

Sirrea tried to keep her mind from what might be happening back at home. In less than an hour, Nahor would learn of his son’s accident. Was the boy still alive? Did he have a mother crazy with worry over her missing boy? It sickened her to think of his pale innocent face, and even more to think of the danger to her family, both brought on by the evil design of his father. Until she and Jacom had stopped to warn the families along the highway, she had assumed her family alone was the target of his hatred.

“You seem deep in thought Sirrea,” said Jacom as they waited for the horses to drink their fill. “I suppose it is no wonder, with all that has happened today.”

“I cannot understand hatred so strong as to burn crops, kill oxen, or make a home unfit for habitation.” A wolf bayed in the distance and Sirrea shuddered involuntarily. “When we were children the world was so right, or perhaps because we were children it only seemed right. Do you remember the gatherings, the games and dances on the rice terraces?”

“I do indeed. It is a fond memory, yet even then there was danger. The Gadianton Robbers raised havoc and began carrying away women and children. People stopped gathering for fear.”

Tears welled up in Sirrea’s eyes. “What is the world coming to Jacom?”

Taking her shoulders he turned her toward him. “Perhaps it is better we do not know the answer to that question,” he said softly. “We must put our trust in the coming Messiah. If your Lamanite prophet is right, it should be very soon.”

“But will it be soon enough? How long before the unbelievers start killing people?” She didn’t expect or wait for an answer. “What if the young boy dies and they kill my parents or even my sisters and their families?” She couldn’t keep the pain at bay any longer as the tremble in her voice transformed into racking sobs.

He pulled her into a hug and stroked the back of her raven hair. Her sobs quieted shortly. She pulled away and dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her mother’s traveling cloak. “Thank you. I’m usually not this emotional.”

“Very understandable….shh….horses are coming.”

“Oh no!” She whispered. They must have followed us. We have to hide.” She snatched up the rope and began leading her horse toward a nearby grove of trees.

“No, don’t worry.” He caught her arm. “They are coming from Zarahemla, not Melek.”

In silence they listened as the sound of hooves clattering along the pavement slowed and came to a stop. In the moon light, they could see a large white horse and two smaller dark horses, each with a rider.

“If memory serves me right,” said the rider of the white horse. “This is the location of a goodly spring.”

It was a deep but gentle voice and Sirrea felt the tension leave her body.

“Good thing brother. That nag of yours may be a bottomless pit, but my filly is plainly in need of nourishment and water,” said one of others affectionately.

Jacom must have also felt at ease. He stepped toward the horses. Catching sight of the two young people the third rider spoke. “Well, hello. We weren’t expecting to see anyone before reaching Melek. How do you come to be so far from civilization so late at night?”

The speaker was a young man, perhaps a few years older than Jacom, with sandy brown hair.

“We were traveling to Zarahemla with all speed but the horses needed water,” said Jacom.

By now the other two riders had dismounted and were bringing their horses toward the spring. “Whatever would require you to travel such a long distance in the dark?” Asked the rider of the white horse.

Sirrea glanced sideways at Jacom, wondering if she should answer and then burst out with it. “We are trying to reach the prophet Nephi! We are in great need of his help.”

A look of surprised pleasure crossed the rider’s face. “Then your mission is accomplished dear child. I am Nephi and this is my brother Timothy and my son Jonas,” he said indicating the young man. “What is the nature of your emergency?”

Sirrea’s mouth dropped open, unable to believe the remarkable coincidence. “But how…how…could you be here?”

“Tonight as I was sitting down for the evening meal, I received a clear impression that I was urgently needed in Melek. We left straight away.”

Tears of gratitude sprang to Sirrea’s eyes. Their prayer had been heard. If this wasn’t a miracle she couldn’t imagine one. Jacom’s face was aglow with wonder.

“Father,” said Jonas. “I will start a fire to discourage any aggressive jaguars while the horses rest and take nourishment.”

“Jaguars, I never even thought about Jaguars being here” Sirrea said.

“It is just a precaution,” said Timothy. “The horses need a few minutes rest before we can go on anyway.”

“Why don’t we sit around the fire and you can explain the situation which necessitated your journey,” said Nephi.


The trip from the watering hole back to Melek was fast paced but uneventful until they were ten minutes from the city where they slowed their exhausted mounts. They rounded a bend and could plainly see four structures in flames scattered thorough out the city. “Oh no! It must have already begun. Maybe the boy died and they have killed my family and are going after all the other believers!” cried Sirrea.

Jacom reached out and touched her arm. “Try not to panic Sirrea. Remember we have seen one miracle tonight. The Lord knows of the situation and he is in control.”

She smiled meekly. “Thank you for reminding me Jacom.”

“Trust on,” called Nephi ,” but we must press forward with all speed. Lead on.”

As they approached Sirrea’s house, a throng of angry people carrying clubs and torches were moving through the trees toward it from the opposite direction. Sirrea pulled her horse to an abrupt halt, jumped off, and flew into the house.

“Mother, Father! The mob is coming!”

The door to the bedroom flew open. “Sirrea, …what…how…,” Miriam stammered.”

People poured into the room including her father sisters and their families.

“Is this all the people you could gather?” asked Sirrea in near panic.”

“The others are trying to defend their own homes. The mobs have already…” began Caleb.

“Yes, we saw the burning houses. Father! Nephi is here! Is the boy alive?”

“Barely! We have been petitioning the Lord in prayer in our behalf as well as his.

Our lives may depend on his. Nephi, did you say? How can…”

“Never mind how! Nephi!”

“I am here,” said a voice from the door. “Lead on!”

Sirrea led Nephi by the arm toward the bedroom. “Please bless him and we will face the mob.”

The grim faced group, spilled outside. The mob had arrived. Nahor, was at the head. “Make no mistake wood cutter. If my son is dead, you and all of your family will die here and now.”

“He lives, but how long I cannot say.”

“Then we will take him from your house of foolish believers and leave you to your fate.” Nahor indicated the angry group behind him.” He and two club wielding associates started for the house.

“Stop!” called a voice from the back of the mob. The healer pushed his way through the crowd. “If you so much as move your son, before sun down tomorrow it will surely kill him.”

Nahor rent his tunic in frustration. “Then I will wait by his side, and these,” he indicated the mob, “will insure my safety.”

“How dare you think to enter this house,” shouted Timothy. “You, yourself have brought this upon your son when you assaulted this family.”

The mob cried out in rage, surging forward with vengeance. Rocks were hurled. The small group shrunk back. Sirrea screamed in horror as one rock after another struck Timothy. He staggered and fell, blood pouring from his head.

“Stop you fools! Not now!” shouted Nahor. “They will kill my boy.”

Nephi, appeared at the door, rushed to his brother and fell at his side.

“My brother, my brother, you have killed my brother!”

“What does it matter?” shouted an unknown voice. “Tomorrow at dusk all believes will die anyway. Let the word go forth, to Zarahemla, to all cities round about, if, ” he added with dog like snarl, “your pitiful sign has not come.”

A shout of sinister jubilation erupted. The mob began to dissipate. Nahor, now fearing the consequence of his interference kept an agonizing vigil from a distance.

The right side of Timothy’s skull had been crushed; his face wore the pallid mask of death. Sirrea shuddered in revulsion, tears streaming. Jacom put an arm around her and she buried her face in his chest. Jacom’s quick intake of breath brought her attention back to the scene. Nephi, still kneeling beside Timothy, had laid his hands upon his head and uttered words they could not hear. Suddenly, Timothy’s legs began to move; his chest rose with inhalation, color returned to his face. Nephi removed his hands; Timothy’s skull was whole! He took Timothy by the hand and raised him from the ground.


The group of believers still basked in the unbelievable miracle they had witnessed. One by one Timothy invited the children to his examine head. It was now late afternoon following the night of Timothy’s restoration to life. The group had slept wherever space permitted. Caleb’s house was the safest place for the time, Damar their temporary insurance against attack, safety for two hours more.

Nephi, torn between rushing back to his family and seeing things through here in Melek, had been in prayerful seclusion since mid morning. The other men were busy fashioning bows and whittling arrows.

Feeling a desperate need to do something Sirrea entered the bedroom where Damar slept. “Any change?” She asked her mother.

Before she could answer, Damar stretched his unwrapped arm above his head and yawned.

Sirrea and Miriam looked at each other in amazement. His eyes opened and confusion crossed his face. “Where is the man who called me from the edge of death?”

Sirrea ran to the door. “Father! Damar is awake.! He wants Nephi!”

The room erupted in a cheer of joy. “I am here,” said Nephi as he entered the house, his countenance radiant. “I would like to speak to the young patient alone if I might,” he said entering the bedroom.”

An hour they waited, tension building; it was nearing sundown. The door opened and Damar walked out. Nephi followed with a hand on his shoulder. Nephi bent down and whispered in his ear.

“I understand what is happening. I will remain here as long as you need me. Could I have something to eat, please?” Damar said.

Miriam sat Damar at the table and promptly set about preparing a bowl of fresh fruit.

Nephi patted Damar gently on the back and turned to the others. “God bless each of you. You can deliver the boy to his father after sundown. Come Timothy and Jonas. It is time we depart.” He strode to the door.

Timothy and Jonas, vaguely confused, bid farewell and followed Nephi.

Mouths dropped . “Deliver him after sundown! Once the sky begins to darken, they will attack!” Sirrea shrieked.

“I also am at a loss,” said Jacom, “but after the miracles I have witnessed at his hand I cannot doubt his word.” The group nodded in agreement.

“Again I am humbled by your wisdom,” Sirrea answered softly.

“Let us pray and we will string our bows and wait at the ready,” instructed Caleb.


The mob had gathered at the forest edge, waiting, “What is the meaning,” said

a burly club holder. “The sun has gone beyond the horizon near an hour, yet it is light as noonday.”

“You’re mistaken; a cloud must be blocking it,” said another.

“He is not mistaken. I have carefully monitored the sun. Even if my calculation is wrong, it would not explain the brightness,” said a third.

A sense of confusion had taken hold of the mob. “Look! Look in the sky!” Someone shouted. All eyes turned upward. There shone a blazing star lighting the sky as noonday sun. The realization of the sign of the Messiah’s coming struck with such force many fell to the ground with the guilt of what they had been about to do. The remainder fell to their knees voluntarily and cried for mercy.


Into the brightness of the holy night walked Caleb and Miriam with Damar between them as family and friends watched. From the back of a would be mob, came forward a very contrite Nahor accompanied by a tearful mother. Nahor fell at Caleb’s feet. “How can you ever forgive me?”

“On a night so glorious, how could we not forgive, my friend?” Caleb reached down, grasped Nahor’s hand and lifted him. “Perhaps to bond our friendship, next week we can thatch my roof.”

Jacom took Sirrea’s hand looked tenderly into her brown eyes. “I will be leaving your father’s employment for a time.”

“But why now? The danger is past.”

“I will be back, I promise but I believe now is the time to share my faith with my family.”

11: The Lost City of Skulls

A colony of coral-pink flamingos stood one-legged in the shallow water of the Western Sea and stared sleepy-eyed at the runners on the beach. Forty-three young men, some as young as fourteen, jogged in line under the bright afternoon sun. Each young Nephite wore cotton chest armor and carried his bedroll and a bow and quiver of arrows slung across his back. They were on a secret mission to find the lost City of Zarahemla.

Lot, son of Ahaz, hardly noticed the flamingos. Tall and scrawny with a scant week’s growth of whiskers, Lot sucked on a pebble to ease his thirst. Sand filled his sandals, and flies swarmed up from the clumps of rotten, foul-smelling seaweed in his path. He glanced over his shoulder into the palm trees bordering the beach.

“Look where you’re going, monkey brains.” The taunt came from the runner behind him. Jarom was seventeen, the same age as Lot, but he weighed twenty pounds more. “What do you see over there? Lamanites?” Jarom laughed. “Don’t worry, little girl, I’ll protect you.”

Lot spit out the pebble, breathing through his clenched teeth. He reached under his chest pad and grasped the carved bone handle of an obsidian dagger that hung from his neck. If Jarom knew he had the knife, he’d probably cut off Lot’s ear with it–or worse. The knife had once belonged to Lot’s father, Ahaz, a priest in King Noah’s court.

The sandy beach ended abruptly in a rocky outcropping. Waves splashed on the boulders, filling shallow tide pools. Algae clung to the rocks, making the way wet and slippery. Lot slowed his pace.

“Move!” Jarom said and shoved him forward.

Lot slipped and fell on his knees in a tide pool. When he heard Jarom laugh, Lot exploded in anger. With one quick motion, Lot shed his gear and lunged at the bully. Both fell onto the rocks, pummeling each other with their fists. The other Nephite scouts gathered to shout encouragement at Jarom.

“Stop!” Captain Nathaniel shouted. He grabbed Lot’s arm and pulled him up. “What’s going on?”

Lot jerked his arm loose, slipped and fell again. The scouts laughed until the captain ordered them to be quiet. Lot climbed out of the tide pool, wet and angry. He squeezed water from his chest pad and in a moment of panic, realized the knife was missing.

“Lot struck first,” Jarom said.

“You’re both at fault.” Captain Nathaniel was a large man with a red beard and thick, hairy arms. Sweat glistened on his freckled nose. He carried the only sword in the patrol, a curved scimitar. “There’ll be no more contention. Jarom, go to the head of the column. Lot, you take the rear guard.”

Several scouts slapped Jarom on the shoulder as he walked to the front of the line. Jarom had coveted the lead from the beginning. Now thanks to Lot’s quick temper, he had it.

Captain Nathaniel handed Lot his soggy bedroll. “The Lord is humbling you. Learn from it.” He motioned with his arm and the patrol moved forward.

Lot lagged behind, pondering the captain’s words. The Lord had been humbling Lot for years. At one time his family lived in a fine house in King Noah’s palace compound. His father had power and prestige. His mother wore gold bracelets and dressed in fine woven cloth. Lot was the favored, first son. All that changed the day the Lamanites swarmed into the valley. Like a horde of army ants, they destroyed everything in their path. King Noah and his priests fled to the hills, abandoning their families. Lot’s father never returned. Now Lot lived in a mud and stick hut. His mother bent over the grinding stone, grinding corn for hours each day. Lot learned to hunt to provide meat for his mother and younger brother. And he learned to fight.

The patrol disappeared around a rocky point and Lot ran back to where he’d fallen. He found the knife at the bottom of the tide pool amid the waving, flower-like tentacles of a sea anemone. Lot held the blade up to the sun. It was translucent, a smoky-gray color, and sharp enough to slice flesh painlessly.

Lot was running to catch up with the others when he heard an eerie scream. A Lamanite war cry! He rounded the point and saw a battle taking place on the shore. The bare-chested Lamanites looked more like fishermen than warriors. None carried swords. They fought with bows and arrows, knives and stone clubs. Captain Nathaniel stood waist deep in the surf, swinging his scimitar at the attackers. Behind him, two Nephite scouts stood chest-deep in the water. Each carried a young archer on his shoulders firing arrows at the Lamanites. Several had already fallen, their bodies lay bleeding in the surf. The remainder of the Nephite search party had run ahead, leaving this small group to keep the marauders at bay.

The Lamanite chieftain watched from the beach, tall and aloof. A bright-colored feather cape covered his bare shoulders and he held an obsidian-tipped spear. He suddenly shouted a war cry and ran toward Lot. Fumbling with the bow, Lot loosed an arrow and missed. The feathered chief was close enough now that Lot could see the jade plugs in his earlobes. Lot drew his bow, waiting. The Lamanite stopped abruptly, balancing the spear. In that instant, Lot loosed his arrow. The man screamed, a surprised look on his tattooed face, and fell with an arrow in his chest.

Lot turned and ran, glancing back to see the Lamanites splash to shore. They quit their attack on the small band of Nephites and knelt beside their leader, but not for long.

Lot rounded the rocky point and waited. The first Lamanite to clear the bend fell to Lot’s arrow, but the others kept coming. He quickly loosed the remaining arrows, then turned and ran. A stone club flew by his shoulder. He stumbled in the sand, shed his bulky gear, and scrambling to his feet, ran to the trees.

Temporarily blinded in the sudden shade, he crashed through the dense undergrowth. His heart was pounding in his ears as he grabbed the obsidian knife. He took a quick glance behind him to find his pursuers and slammed hard into a tree. The impact almost knocked him out. As he fell, the knife cut his hand, but Lot didn’t feel it. He crawled under the foliage and waited.

Moments later the Lamanites entered the forest. Lot heard the men sweep through the leaves with their stone clubs. He knew they expected him to jump from cover like a frightened rabbit. Lot cupped his hand and over his mouth to quiet his breath and tasted blood—his own blood. He grasped the dagger with his left hand and waited.

The wait grew longer.

Lot’s head ached. His throat was dry and his gut sick with fear. His right hand began to throb. Blood pulsed from the wound, pooling in the dirt. He clenched his fist and slowed his breath, trying not to focus on the pain. Flies crawled on his hand, attracted to the blood, but he didn’t move. After what seemed a long time, a parrot squawked. Parakeets chirped and squabbled. Somewhere among the trees a spider monkey chattered. Then he heard footsteps running toward him.

Lot jumped to his feet, slashing the air with the knife. His attempt was in vain. Blood drained from his head, and in a swirl of stars he crumpled unconscious to the ground.

A crash of thunder awakened him. It was dark. The air was thick with moisture and the smell of damp earth. Raindrops drummed the leaves in the tree canopy above. Lot grabbed for the knife but it wasn’t there. Instead, he felt a tight strap bound around his wounded hand. His heart jumped when he realized he wasn’t alone.

“Are you awake?” It was a girl’s voice, and she spoke his language.

Lot squinted in the dark. “Who are you?”

“Michal, daughter of Issachar. Keep your voice low. Here, I have water.”

Lot leaned on his elbow and drank from the folded leaf she held out to him. “What’s this?” he asked, holding up his wounded hand.

“You lost a lot of blood. The poultice will help it heal.”

Lot didn’t thank her. He wasn’t sure he could trust her. “Where’s my knife?” he asked.

“I have it.”

“Give it to me.”

She was silent for a moment. “How do you come to have such a knife?”

“It was my father’s.” Lot fell back on the ground, feeling weak.

“My father died in the battle of Shilom,” she said. Thunder crashed and seconds later lightning flashed. Wind whipped the treetops. “Who are you?” she asked.

“Lot, son of Ahaz, from the City of Nephi.” He didn’t think she’d recognize his father’s name. Shilom was a full day’s journey from Nephi.

“I was captured by the Lamanites nine years ago.” Michal said. “I’ve been a slave in Topoxte’s village. They left me behind with the women and children when your troop attacked. That’s how I escaped.”

“We didn’t attack,” Lot said. “They ambushed us. We’re on a peaceful mission—searching for the land of Zarahemla.”

“The land of our fathers?” Her voice quickened. “Take me with you. I know the trails through the jungle.”

“You’ve been to Zarahemla?”

“No, but I’ve been as far north as the Land of the Desolation.”

Lot didn’t recognize the name. “King Limhi sent us to seek aid from Zarahemla.”

“Is King Limhi a coward like his father, Noah?” Michal muttered a Lamanite curse and didn’t wait for an answer. “If Noah’s priests hadn’t captured the daughters of the Lamanites, my father would still be alive.”

Lot quickly changed the subject. He told her about the fight on the beach and Captain Nathaniel’s bravery. “I have to rejoin the search party,” he said.

“Are you strong enough to walk?”

Lot pushed himself up to a sitting position and waited for his head to stop spinning. Michal took his arm at the elbow and helped him to stand. At that moment there was a crack of thunder and a simultaneous bright flash of lightning. In that split second he saw her face. Lot jerked his arm free. Michal was young, probably close to his age, but her face had been tattooed. A wide ribbon of blue dots crossed her cheeks and the bridge of her nose.

Like a blind man in a maze, Lot stumbled through the dense foliage, weak and in pain. Michal pressed on. “How do you know the way?” he asked.


Lot cupped a hand to his ear and heard waves crashing against the shore.

As first-light penetrated the trees, Lot was better able to see the Nephite girl. She was tall. Her light brown hair hung in two long braids in the Lamanite fashion and she wore traditional Lamanite clothing. Her cotton blouse and skirt were made of colorful, woven cloth. Lot saw his father’s ceremonial knife tucked in the rope belt at her waist.

The jungle woke with the sun. Howler monkeys roared like lions to announce the dawn. Lot spotted one of the black demons in a tree and threw a stone at it. Left-handed, his aim was poor. He was looking for another stone when Michal stopped him. “The monkeys are a good sign. They wouldn’t roar if the Lamanites were near.”

They rested in the shelter of an ancient ceiba tree. Its thick roots bolstered the trunk and offered them a hiding place. Lot gazed up into the wide-spreading branches high above and saw bats returning from their nightly haunt.

“We’ll sleep too,” Michal said. “It’s too dangerous to travel during the day.”

Lot was about to argue but he realized Michal was right. She not only dressed like a Lamanite, she thought like one. “I’ll keep guard first,” he said.

Michal shook her head. “We’re safe for now. You sleep; I’ll find something to eat.”

Lot was exhausted but the pain in his hand kept him awake. He untied the strip of cloth Michal had torn from her skirt to make a bandage. The cut was deep and caked with darkened blood. It split his palm from his wrist up through his middle fingers, exposing the bones. He rewrapped the bandage but couldn’t tie it with his left hand. He’d have to ask for Michal’s help.

The thought angered him. He didn’t like the idea of depending on Michal. She broke the trail. She hunted for food. She still held his father’s knife. Easing the pressure of the bandage had lessened the pain, and Lot fell asleep.

He woke to a sweet, fragrant aroma. Michal sat beside him slicing a mango with his father’s ceremonial dagger. She arrayed the pieces on a broad leaf as if she were serving a feast to the king. Lot propped himself up on his elbow and ate hungrily. “Thanks,” he said, wiping the juice from his chin with the back of his hand.

Michal placed the knife on the ground next to him. “Take it. It’s yours.”

Lot reached for knife but she stopped him, placing her hand on his. “There’s one condition. Promise me that if Topoxte’s men find us, you won’t let them take me alive.” Lot looked into her grey-green eyes. He knew what she expected him to do, and she was deadly serious. “Promise,” she said again.

Lot nodded.

Michal lifted his wounded hand and retied the knot. “Tonight you’ll wash off the blood in the sea. The salt water will clean it.” Almost as an afterthought she said, “I found the Nephites’ trail.”

Lot felt a surge of relief. “That’s good.”

“No, not good. If I found their trail, I’m sure Topoxte’s men found it too. They’ll gather the other tribes and strike again. This time no one will escape.”

“I have to warn them.”

“You’ll walk into a trap.” She lay down on the bed of leaves and turned her back to him. “I’m not going with you,” she said.

“Where are you going?”


Lot ate the remaining fruit but it was tasteless now. For a while he considered returning to the City of Nephi with Michal. He needed to report to King Limhi and tell him what happened to Captain Nathaniel and the search party. Michal needed his protection too. It made sense, but at the same time it sickened his stomach. He looked over to where Michal slept, snoring lightly. Would her family welcome her home? Lot doubted it. Girls who had been captured by the Lamanites were shunned, and Michal’s tattoo would mark her for the rest of her life.

A parrot screeched and Lot reached for the dagger. If the Lamanites had tracked Michal to their hiding place, he would have to slit her throat. The idea was loathsome to him.

When Michal woke a few hours later, Lot knew what he had to do. “Take the knife,” he said, placing it on the ground beside her. “You’ll need it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have to join the search party. We’ll get through to Zarahemla. It’s the only hope we have left in the City of Nephi.”

“You’ll get lost.”

“I’ll follow the shoreline like we did last night.”

Michal sat up, hugging her knees. “I’ve dreamed of going home for so long. It’s what kept me alive.”

Lot could hear her quiet sobs. “When you get back to the land of Nephi,” he said, “send word to King Limhi. Tell him what happened to Captain Nathaniel and the others.”

Michal picked up the dagger and handed it to Lot. “Take me to Zarahemla.”

The afternoon rain came again, and they continued north as they had the night before. Lot felt stronger and they kept a faster pace. After the storm passed, Michal led the way to the beach. The waves were rough, pounding on the shore. Standing knee deep in the surf, Michal untied Lot’s bloodied bandage. He plunged his hand in the salt water but quickly pulled it out again. The wound burned like fire.

“Don’t be a baby.” Michal gently lowered his hand into the water. A wave slammed against their legs and she lost her balance, falling against Lot. He smelled her wet hair and felt her soft shoulder. Michal, daughter of Issachar, he thought, you’re a brave girl. Then she let go of his hand and they walked back to shore. Michal used rain-rinsed leaves to make a poultice and carefully wrapped his hand again. “How does it feel?” she asked.


They traveled all that night, stopping only for short rests. It was almost dawn when Michal motioned a warning to stop. They knelt down in the undergrowth. “Someone’s coming,” she whispered. The bird and monkey chatter had ceased and Lot heard a strange thwacking sound. Someone was clearing a path through the jungle.

“Lamanites?” He reached for the knife.

“No,” Michal said, standing up. “They would never make so much noise. The Nephites are here.”

Lot ran forward to meet the patrol. He found Jarom at the head of the column slashing through the underbrush with the captain’s scimitar. “We thought you were dead,” Jarom said. His body armor was ripped and blood-stained and his bruised, swollen nose had been broken. He explained that the search party had been ambushed twice since Lot killed the Lamanite chief. There were less than twenty Nephite scouts left. They gathered around Lot, weary and beaten. Two of the stronger young men supported Captain Nathaniel, holding his arms on their shoulders. They gently lowered their captain to the ground and Lot knelt beside him.

“Lot? Thank God you’re here.” The captain’s voice was weak. Bloodied bandages wrapped his leg and torso.

“This is Michal,” Lot said. “She’s lived with the Lamanites and she knows the land. She can help us find Zarahemla.”

The captain shook his head slowly. “We’re going back to the land of Nephi. The mission is a failure.”

“If you do that, you’ll die,” Michal said. “I can lead you to the Land of Desolation. You’ll be safe there. The Lamanites won’t follow. They believe it’s haunted.”

“Is it far?” the captain asked.

“We’ll have to cross the mountains,” Michal said. “I’ve never been there, but I know the way.”

Captain Nathaniel nodded. “I hope I live to see it.”

“We’re going to follow this girl?” Jarom’s voice was sharp. “She might lead us into a trap. I say we keep going south to the land of Nephi.”

“Give me the scimitar,” Captain Nathaniel ordered.

Jarom dropped on one knee and the captain reclaimed his weapon. He handed it to Lot. “Lead us to this Land of Desolation.”

Lot stood with the captain’s sword in his left hand and faced the Nephite scouts. “Are you willing?”

There was silence for a moment and then Jarom spoke again. “Don’t you remember who this is? He’s the son of Ahaz the traitor and coward, the pagan priest who stole a daughter of the Lamanites and brought death to hundreds of Nephite warriors.”

Lot saw the surprise and hurt in Michal’s eyes and his hand tightened on the hilt of the scimitar.

“Lot is a traitor like his father,” Jarom said. “He took this tattooed…”

Before Jarom could say another word, Lot jabbed the sword hilt into his face. Blood gushed from his broken nose and Jarom cried out in pain. He buckled over, covering his nose in an effort to stop the flow.

“I’m not my father,” Lot told the Nephite patrol. “And I’m no coward. Captain Nathaniel trusts me. You can too.”

Lot knelt beside the captain. “Pray with me now.”

Everyone except Jarom got down on their knees. Lot bowed his head and prayed for guidance and protection. He asked a blessing for Captain Nathaniel. When the Nephite scouts got back on their feet, Lot was in command. “We’ll rest until nightfall,” he said. “No fires. No noise.”

A short while later, Lot found Michal alone. “I want you to have this now,” he said, holding out the obsidian knife.

She nodded. “It will never be used unrighteously again.”

The patrol started at dusk, following Michal’s lead through the jungle. Lot walked behind her with Captain Nathaniel’s scimitar strapped to his waist. The moon was slow to rise. Its sliver of light kept the patrol hidden. They hadn’t gone far before they heard the sound of drums—ominous, pulsing beats coming from the south. A short while later the drums were answered, this time from the north. As they climbed higher, the air grew chilly. The palms and broad-leafed jungle trees gave way to scrub oaks and brush. At dawn they had crested the ridge and descended into a high mountain valley.

Lot called for a halt beside a pool of clear, bubbling water. The limestone sinkhole was an oasis surrounded by lush trees. The young Nephites stepped down to the water’s edge, sprawled on their stomachs and drank like dogs. Captain Nathaniel lay on a blanket, feverish and in pain. Michal pressed a calabash gourd filled with water to his lips and a wet cloth to his forehead. When she returned to the pool for more water, Lot followed. “Will he live?”

Michal shook her head sadly. “The wound is rotting.”

Lot kicked a rock into the water. “How much farther?”

“The City of Skulls must be close, down in the valley.”

The Nephites lingered at the water’s edge. Those who had food shared with those who had none. Lot remained on guard. Cupping his bandaged hand over his eyes, he gazed back along the trail. What was that movement in the brush? A deer? A wild turkey? Metal glinted in the sun. “Lamanites!” he shouted. “Run!”

War cries filled the air.

Michal ran and the Nephite scouts followed. Lot and Jarom remained behind with Captain Nathaniel and three others too wounded to flee. They took shelter in the trees from the Lamanite arrows. “Over here,” Jarom shouted. “There’s a place to hide.”

It was a rock building that had lost its thatched roof years ago. After helping the wounded inside, Lot and Jarom guarded the entrance. Arrows rained down over the walls. The Lamanites shrieked in anger but then were strangely quiet.

“What’s happening?” Captain Nathaniel asked.

“They’re staying back,” Lot said. “I don’t know why.”

“I do,” Jarom said. He had gone to the far corner of the walled enclosure to retrieve arrows that had fallen there. “This place is full of bones.”

“We must be near the City of Skulls.” Lot thought of Michal and felt his gut sicken. Was she safe?

Jarom scowled at Lot through bloodshot, swollen eyes. “We’re going to die here, too,” he said. “Our bones will be left to rot.”

“That’s enough.” Lot didn’t want the others to hear.

The sun rose higher and the heat grew oppressive. They sat against the wall, seeking shade. Flies tormented the wounded, and the captain became delirious, calling for water. There was none. Despite Lot’s efforts, Captain Nathaniel died in the heat of the day. Lot wrapped his body in a blanket and covered it with rocks.

It was long after dark before they left the enclosure. A signal fire blazed in the distance and they walked toward it. “Hello, the camp!” Lot shouted when he thought he was close enough to be heard. Someone ran to meet them. It was Michal!

“Thank God, you’re alive,” she cried, rushing into his arms. Lot hadn’t slept in almost twenty-four hours. He was hungry. He was dirty. And he’d lost his friend, Captain Nathaniel. Yet Lot felt relieved knowing that Michal was here. Yes, he thought, thank God.

They entered what had once been a large city. Well-constructed stone buildings surrounded an open court overgrown with brush. A man-made pyramid rose at the center, topped with a stone temple. The Nephite scouts had fueled the bonfire with wooden tables and benches taken from the abandoned buildings. They cheered when Lot and the others arrived but their mood quickly changed when they learned Captain Nathaniel had died. Lot sat before the fire eating a bowl of beans Michal had brought him, and the young men gathered, wondering what Lot planned next. “We’ll stay here a while,” he said. “We’re safe and the wounded need to rest, but Captain Nathaniel would want us to continue the search for Zarahemla.”

“The search is over, Captain Lot.” Jarom spoke the title derisively. “Don’t you see it? This is the City of Zarahemla.”

Lot ignored the jibe, glancing up at the vacant buildings. “I hope not. If this is Zarahemla, we’re too late.”

After finishing his meal, Lot asked them to climb the pyramid. The likelihood of a Lamanite attack was small, but he thought they would be safer on high ground. Storm clouds had blown across the valley, obscuring the stars. Forked lightning danced on the mountains and thunder rumbled in the distance. The Nephite scouts held up their wind-whipped torches as they ascended the steep staircase to the temple. They entered the great hall and stared in disbelief. Skeletons clad in metal breastplates lay about the stone floor, their swords and shields beside them. The young Nephites began poking about the remains, looking for valuables.

“Stop!” Lot shouted. “These were once valiant warriors.”

Michal had left and Lot went to find her. She stood at the open doorway, gazing out at the once-great city. Raindrops splashed on the stone steps. Eerie flashes of lightning illuminated the streets and buildings below. “Is this really Zarahemla?” she asked.

Lot shook his head. “If it is, there’s no hope for the City of Nephi.”

They returned to the hall and found the Nephite scouts gathered at the stone altar. Lot heard their excited voices. In the light of a flickering torch, he saw the glint of gold. “What is it?”

“Gold plates,” Jarom said. “There are more than twenty of them in a stone box.”

Lot held one up to the light. “There are engravings on this plate,” he said, handing it back to Jarom. “King Limhi should see them.”

“King Limhi, why?”

Lot heard the challenge in his voice. “He might be able to decipher the inscriptions.”

“These markings? They look like pictures to me, not writing.”

“The plates may explain what happened to these people. If this is Zarahemla, King Limhi must learn what happened here.”

Jarom closed the stone box. “I found them,” he said. “They’re mine.” He grabbed one of the ancient swords and carved an arc through the air, threatening Lot.

“Put that down.” Lot stood empty-handed.

“You can’t tell me what to do, Captain Lot, son of Ahaz.”

Lot backed against the altar as Jarom advanced. “Who’s captain now?” Jarom jeered.

Lot glanced about for a weapon. There was none within reach.

“Seize him!” Jarom ordered. The Nephi scouts stood motionless. Enraged, Jarom shouted again. “Do as I say! There’s enough treasure here for all of us.”

“Lot!” Michal screamed. She held out the obsidian dagger.

Jarom cursed, lunging at Michal with the sword. He knocked the knife from her hand and it shattered on the stone floor. Obsidian shards scattered everywhere. Lot launched himself at Jarom and they fell, wrestling for the sword. Tiny pieces of obsidian glass cut into their bare flesh. Lot’s wounded hand was useless, immobilized with the bandage, and Jarom was able to gain a chokehold. Michal’s screams echoed in the stone hall as Jarom tightened his grip on Lot’s neck.

Struggling to free himself, Lot thrashed about on the floor, gasping for breath. His ears were ringing. His vision dimmed. Then suddenly it was over. The young Nephites pulled Jarom away, pinning his arms behind his back. Jarom raged with hate. He pleaded with the Nephite scouts to let him go. “The treasure belongs to us. We found it!”

Lot stood, wobbly on his feet, and rubbed his sore neck. Michal came to his side. One of the Nephite scouts handed him Captain Nathaniel’s scimitar. “You are our captain now, Lot.”

When Lot woke the next morning, Jarom was gone. He never returned.

Lot and the Nephi scouts explored the valley for many days and each time they found more grisly bone piles. The evidence was all around. Zarahemla had been destroyed. “I don’t believe it,” Michal said. She sat with Lot at the top of the temple pyramid, looking out at the city. “This can’t be Zarahemla. My grandmother told me stories of Zarahemla. It was a wondrous city, and it had a righteous king. The Lord would not allow the people to be destroyed.”

Lot glanced at Michal and smiled. She wore her hair in the Nephite fashion now, knotted at the back of her neck with a red hibiscus flower tucked behind her ear. Lot thought she looked beautiful. “The gold plates may hold the answer,” he said.

Lot didn’t want to believe that Zarahemla had been destroyed either, but he ordered preparations to be made for the trek back to the Land of Nephi. “The Lamanites may be waiting on the other side of the mountains,” he told the Nephite scouts. “The breastplates and weapons we’ve found here will protect us.”

“No,” Michal said. “The Lord will protect us.”

They made quick progress through the pass with Michal as their guide. At dawn they were once again under the tree canopy in the land of the roaring monkeys. Michal sat beside Lot as they ate their meal. “I asked you once to take me to Zarahemla,” she said. Lot nodded and Michal gently took his hand in hers. The knife wound was healing but there would always be a scar. “Well?” she asked.

Lot smiled. “Someday I’ll take you to Zarahemla,” he said. “I promise.”

10: Hannah’s Faith

Hannah’s sandals beat rapidly against the ground as she hurried back to her house for dinner. Judging by how far the sun had dropped, she estimated it had been almost an hour since her mother had sent her to the market for a length of cloth. She had been on her way back when she ran into her friend Ruth. Hannah hadn’t meant to talk for so long, but she’d lost track of time.

As she ran, she caught sight of the Lamanite guards positioned around the settlement. She hated how they watched her all the time. Every time she saw them, she remembered that terrifying night two years ago when the fierce army had surrounded them. She had only been thirteen then. King Noah had taken flight leaving most of the people to fend for themselves. She could still clearly see the Lamanite’s faces in the light of the torches, their war paint glowing, eerily illuminated by the fire. Hannah’s sister, Adaya, had been one of the young women whose beauty had convinced the Lamanite army to spare their lives.

Sometimes Hannah still wondered at what cost their lives had come though. They were forced to give half their means as tribute to the Lamanite king. Her father, Moran, was a farmer and it took a huge toll on her family to give up half of what he grew. Even though Hannah knew that King Noah had been an evil man, at least he had only taxed them one fifth of their possessions.

When she got back to her house, her father and older brothers, Zerach and Manel, were still in the fields. Out of breath, she quickly waved and went to give the cloth to her mother. Hannah’s mother, Danya, was sitting up in her bed with a needle and thread as Hannah walked in the front door of their small hut.

“Where have you been?” asked Adaya from the kitchen.

“I met Ruth at the market and I didn’t realize how long we talked,” Hannah answered.

Danya laughed. “Always losing track of the time,” she said as Hannah handed her the cloth.

“I’m sorry,” Hannah said sheepishly.

“Come help me finish dinner,” Adaya said.

Hannah went to the kitchen and set out utensils and plates. They were having corn again. It was the most plentiful thing her father grew. Hannah had to admit that Adaya had managed to get creative using herbs from the garden and roots they found in the forest.

Soon, her father and Zerach came in from the field. Manel had gone home to his wife, Iana and their son Joshua. They sat at their makeshift table near Danya’s bed and Moran offered a blessing on the food. Hannah’s family was one of the few who had heard the teachings of Alma and believed. Danya’s illness had prevented them from going to the waters of Mormon and being baptized, but they all believed in what Alma said. The day that King Noah had sent his armies after Alma’s followers, Hannah’s family had not been among them, so they were left behind. Hannah often wondered what had become of them and why God couldn’t have just cured her mother so they could go. Once, Hannah had mentioned this to her parents. Her mother had said, “That’s not the way the Lord works. I don’t know what it is, but I believe there is a reason He wanted us to stay behind for now.”

Hannah had nodded as if she understood, but was even more confused by this proclamation. After dinner was eaten, Hannah helped her sister clean up. Sometimes she envied Adaya’s beauty and grace. At seventeen, she was the prettiest girl in the settlement, and had been offered marriage by many suitors. Her father had turned them all down wanting Adaya to marry someone of their faith. Hannah was sure that she would not have the same problem when she came of age.

Sensing her despondence, Zerach said, “Hannah, want to come on a walk with me?”

“Yes,” she answered enthusiastically.

It was almost dark when they walked out and their father cautioned them to hurry home so they could go to bed. Hannah let Zerach pick the direction. She was not surprised when he headed toward the outskirts of the settlement. They couldn’t go very far though or the Lamanite guards would make them turn back.

“I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like outside,” Zerach said as they looked out at the expanse of forbidden land.

“Me too,” Hannah answered.

“Don’t worry,” Zerach reassured. “We’ll get out again.”

Hannah laughed sardonically, “Yes, when they take us to be buried.”

“You need to have a little more faith,” Zerach said. Hannah was surprised at the seriousness of his tone. Seeing the look of surprise on her face he added, “I did not mean to sound unkind. I just want you to understand that the Lord will give us our liberty when it is right.”

As usual, Hannah nodded as if she felt the same way, but she didn’t.

Zerach put his arm around her shoulders. “Come on, let’s get home.”

When they got back to their hut, two men were standing outside talking with their father. Zerach slowed his step and a strange expression crossed his face when she saw them.

“Go inside,” he said to Hannah. She quickly obeyed and went to find her mother.

Adaya and Danya were inside silently waiting for Moran and Zerach to come back inside. A bad feeling settled in the pit of Hannah’s stomach.

“Who are those men?” she asked her mother.

“They are messengers from King Limhi,” her mother said.

“What do they want?”

“I am not sure. We’ll have to wait for your father to tell us.”

A few minutes later, Moran and Zerach walked back in with solemn expressions. Hannah knew she should be proper and wait for them to explain, but she couldn’t take the suspense.

“What is it?” she blurted out.

“Hannah,” Adaya chided.

Moran put up a hand to stop Adaya’s lecture before she could start. Without preamble he said, “The Lamanites are coming to war against us.”

“Why?” asked Danya from her bed. “We have paid our tributes and not risen up against them.”

Moran shrugged his shoulders. “We don’t know. The messengers said they are angry, but King Limhi does not know what they are angry at us for.

“Are they sure they want to battle?” asked Adaya.

“King Limhi saw them making preparations from his tower,” Zerach confirmed. “The messengers have asked that all the able bodied men take up arms and fight.”

Hannah drew in a sharp breath. Her father and brothers were farmers, not warriors. Her heart filled with dread and once again she saw the fearsome war party that had almost assailed them last time.

“They have asked that we leave immediately,” Moran said. “We will gather in the square and go out to meet them.”

Adaya was unable to hold in her emotions and started to cry. Hannah looked at her mother. Her already pale face was even whiter than usual and her hands shook. Moran sat on the bed with his arms carefully wrapped around her frail body.

Hannah just stared into space and felt the anger rising within her. How she hated the Lamanites! They had already taken their freedom and livelihoods. Did they have to lose their families as well before they would be satisfied? For a long time, nobody spoke. Finally Zerach broke the silence, “Father, it’s almost time to go. Let’s pray together before we have to leave.”

Moran looked up and nodded. As they knelt, Moran asked Hannah to offer the prayer. She shook her head. She knew that her family was shocked at her refusal, but Hannah didn’t feel like praying. Her anger was reaching extreme levels and it was getting more directed at God with every second. He could put a stop to all this, but it was still happening. Hadn’t they already suffered enough? Why was He allowing this to happen too?

Instead, Moran offered to say the prayer. Hannah didn’t listen to it very closely. She remembered her father asking the Lord to watch over them and to let them be victorious. He also closed saying, “Thy will be done”. After the prayer was over, everyone else seemed to feel better, but Hannah only felt worse.

Unable to hold it back anymore, she said, “It isn’t fair. God is supposed to be helping us, not making our lives worse!”

She felt bad at the stunned look on her parents’ and Adaya’s faces. Zerach however, just smiled and put his arm around her. “God isn’t doing this to us Hannah. Evil, selfish men are doing this to us. Remember what Alma taught about the Messiah and the resurrection? I know it doesn’t feel like it’s fair right now, but eventually God will make everything right.”

At this, Hannah finally felt a little better. She also felt guilty for her behavior. Zerach was right. She thought about the peaceful feelings that had overcome her when Alma spoke of a Redeemer and resolved to be more faithful.

Her father and brothers had taken tools from the farm such as scythes and pitchforks. They had also taken a small knife each, but they had only used them for hunting and cleaning fish and game. Hannah knew they were not trained for this kind of thing.

Manel brought Joshua and Iana over to wait with Hannah, Adaya and Danya. Hannah hugged her father and Manel tightly managing to hold back the tears, but when it was Zerach’s turn she couldn’t fight them anymore. They slid down her face and onto his robe as she buried her face in his shoulder and contemplated the horrible possibility of never seeing him again. She waited for her brother to say something comforting, but he just pulled back and smiled at her as he walked to the door.

Hannah watched Manel as he held three year old Joshua one last time. What if Manel never came back and Joshua never got to know how wonderful his father was?

Hannah and Adaya helped their mother stand so she could watch her husband and sons from the door. Hannah could see other men leaving their families. The sounds of crying came from all over the settlement. Moran, Manel and Zerach turned back to wave one more time from the gate and walked towards the market. They all watched until they were out of sight and then assisted Danya back to her bed. She was tired from standing and soon fell asleep.

Hannah, Adaya and Iana didn’t speak as they waited. Even Joshua was uncharacteristically subdued sensing the somber atmosphere. Night started to fall and Adaya suggested they try to sleep. Hannah rolled out her mat knowing that she would never be able to sleep.

As she lay down next to Adaya, Hannah asked, “What do you think is happening?”

“It is not our place to wonder,” Adaya said. “You really need to curb your impetuous thoughts and behaviors. It is not becoming to a young woman.”

Hannah knew that Adaya was only saying that because she was afraid for their family and didn’t want to think about it. Soon, Hannah could hear the others even breathing and knew they were asleep. Carefully, she got out of bed and put her sandals back on. If Adaya thought her earlier outburst was impetuous, she was going to be really shocked at this. Not that Hannah intended to be caught. She could sneak out, see what was going on and be back before the others woke at dawn.

Silently, she walked past the sleeping forms of her family and slipped into the darkness. Once she was a few feet away from her house, she broke into a run. She knew the perfect place to observe. Her pace quickened even more as she saw what she was looking for. A tree rose above the ground just outside the settlement. It wasn’t quite as high as King Limhi’s tower, but it should be enough for her to see what she wanted to see.

Carefully, she climbed to the highest branches and looked out across the thick jungle. It was quiet, but not a peaceful quiet. The very air was thick and tense. Hannah’s eyes tried to penetrate through the darkness for any signs of battle, but there was nothing. A few minutes later, she saw the Lamanite army advancing in the distance. Their torches lit up the tropical forest around them and their numbers seemed endless. Hannah knew that the Nephites were extremely outnumbered.

As she watched the enemy come closer, she wondered where the makeshift Nephite army was. She knew they had left, but could not see a camp or battle line anywhere. Sufficiently humbled by the graveness of the situation and her brother’s words to her, she prayed. She bowed her head and said, “Oh, God I know I do not have the faith of my family, but I want to. Please protect my father and brothers, let them drive the Lamanites away.” Now she paused trying to gather might. “And please give me strength to accept Thy will. Amen.”

When the Lamanites were only a few hundred feet away from Hannah’s vantage point she really started to worry. Where were they? Suddenly, she saw one of the Lamanites fall. The army halted and Hannah could count two or three more Lamanites fall. Understanding dawned on her. The Nephites were hiding in the dense vegetation and picking them off. It was the only way they stood a chance.

However, they were soon drawn out of their hiding places and the fighting really began. Soon, Hannah realized she had made a mistake coming here. The cries of dying men assailed her ears and she covered them in a desperate attempt to block it out. As much as the scene appalled her, she was unable to look away. On both sides the men exchanged brutal blows.

Her people were armed with nothing but what they could find. Very few had real weapons, but Hannah could feel their tenacity. They were fighting for a greater cause and as a result, fought with twice as hard as the Lamanites.

Hannah could not see any of her family, but she did catch sight of Gideon. He was a legend among her people. He could have killed King Noah, but in mercy had spared his life only to see his generosity ill repaid when Noah deserted the people. He fought with the strength of ten men and Hannah could see why he was so admired as a warrior. Lamanite after Lamanite was cut down in his wake.

Hannah knew she should get back before she was missed, but couldn’t help staying as she noticed that the Lamanites were being driven back. Her excitement grew as she saw that they were in an all out retreat. Leaving her perch, she sprinted back to her house to share the good news. The sun was about to rise and she knew she was going to be in trouble, but her jubilation drowned out any anxiety she felt.

She threw the door open breathing hard and shouting, “We’ve done it! The Lamanites are retreating!”

Her mother, Adaya and Iana were all awake. At Hannah’s pronouncement of victory, they all sat around Danya’s bed hugging and crying for joy. Soon, they heard the door open behind them and Hannah jumped up to greet her father, Manel and Zerach. Something wasn’t right though. Only her father and Manel stood shadowed in the dim light of dawn.

“Where is Zerach?” she asked with trepidation.

The anguished look on her father’s face was all the answer she needed. She barely heard her mother’s voice telling her to come back as she ran out the door towards the battlefield. Zerach could not be dead. It was inconceivable to Hannah that she would never again see his smile or hear his laughter.

When she came to the place where the fighting had taken place, she saw the bodies of the dead and wounded as they were either covered or their wounds treated. She ran through the multitude searching for her brother’s face. It was a mistake. He had just been separated from them and any minute she would find him alive and well.

After awhile, another emotion began to grow in her. It was an indescribable desolation. Zerach was really gone. In despair, she dodged the men trying to get her away from the ghastly sights around her and plunged into the undergrowth.

She found a secluded spot, sat down and began to cry. Her sobbing became uncontrollable and she had to gasp for breath. Hannah forced herself to stop. If she kept it up, they would find her and make her go back. She didn’t want to face anyone yet, so she stayed quiet and tried to stay hidden. That’s when she heard a rustling sound coming from a few feet away.

Afraid it was a Lamanite waiting to ambush her she sat still and listened for exactly where it was coming from. Hannah heard moaning from another bush to her left. She warily went to investigate and was met with a surprising sight. A Lamanite was lying on the ground, barely conscious. Coming closer, she realized who he was. She had only seen him twice from a distance, but there was no mistaking it. He was the Lamanite king.

Suddenly, she realized the choice she was faced with. This man was the reason her brother was dead. It was his fault. She could either bring him help, or leave him here and let him die. He was far enough off the path that no one would probably find him. The anger inside her argued that he deserved it and she was completely justified in letting him die. Turning around, she started to leave. She only took two steps when another voice spoke to her. Hannah clearly heard Zerach say, “I am not gone forever. No matter what wickedness this man has done, you know the right choice is to save his life. Please do not walk away.”

Hannah turned back to the man and started to yell for someone to help. Soon, three men cut through the vegetation toward them. One looked at who it was and said, “This is the Lamanite king.”

“Finish him off,” the second man said bitterly.

“No,” the third man said. “We must take him to King Limhi.”

The first two men treated his injuries then put the king onto a stretcher and took him away. The third man led Hannah back to the settlement where they found Moran searching for Hannah.

“The king may want to see you as well,” the man said leading her and her father toward the tower.

“What is going on?” Moran asked. Hannah quickly explained how she had found the king and now they were going to take him to Limhi. Hannah became nervous as they approached Limhi’s dwelling.

Inside, the king was counseling with Gideon and his advisors. When they came in, he gave a questioning look until he saw who was borne on the stretcher.

The men carrying the stretcher set it down in front of Limhi. The one who had wanted to kill the king back in the forest said, “We have found the Lamanite king among the dead. His own people have left him and we have brought him to you. Let us kill him.”

“Do not kill him. Bring him here so that I can see him,” Limhi said.

The men complied and brought the Lamanite king closer. “Why have you come to war with my people? We have kept our oath, so why have you broken yours?”

The Lamanite king was weak and Limhi had to lean down to hear his answer. “I have broken the oath because your people have taken the daughters of the Lamanites captive. I became angry and commanded my army to rise up against you.”

Limhi seemed confused. “I have heard nothing about this, but I will search among the people and find out if they have done this deed you speak of.”

At this, Gideon took the king aside. Hannah could barely hear him whisper. “King Limhi, please do not blame the people. What about the priests of King Noah roaming the wilderness? Couldn’t they be responsible? The Lamanites are planning another attack and now they believe we have killed their king as well. They will show no mercy. There are very few of us left. Ask the king to appease them so that we may live. Abinadi’s words have come true because we would not turn to the Lord. It is better for us to be in bondage than to lose our lives.”

Limhi thought for a moment, then agreed with Gideon and turned back to the Lamanite king. Quickly he explained about King Noah’s priests and that they must have been the ones who kidnapped the Lamanite women. He asked the king to have mercy and keep his people from attacking them again.

To Hannah’s surprise, the Lamanite king was placated. He promised to tell his armies not to slay the Nephites and enter into a covenant of peace. At this point, Moran put his hand on Hannah’s shoulder. “Come on. I do not think they need you to speak to them. We should leave.”

As they left, Hannah could almost feel Zerach’s presence beside her. She knew in that moment that she would see him again, that he was happy, and that she had done the right thing.


Many years later, Hannah stood in the darkness with her husband and children eagerly waiting for the signal. Ammon had said that the Lord would provide a way for them to escape tonight, and this time, Hannah’s faith was unwavering. As they waited, her thoughts turned to the bittersweet events of the past years.

The Lamanite king had been true to his word. When his armies returned, he went out and told them to cease fighting. The Lamanites took their king and departed back to their own land peacefully.

However, the situation had not gotten better for the Nephites. Instead the Lamanites became even crueler to them. The Lamanites worked them harshly and battered them. After taking these new abuses, some of the people went back to King Limhi and requested that they take up arms again. Limhi granted their petition, but at a horrible price. The Lamanites overwhelmed the Nephites killing many of them. There were numerous widows and orphans. Everyone, including Hannah’s family, did what they could to take care of them all.

Feelings of fear and despair ruled the land for many years. The Nephites went to battle a second and third time with the same disastrous results as before. Finally, the people were humbled. Hannah had watched as they became little more than slaves, their spirits finally broken. They began to turn to the Lord and prayed fervently for deliverance. Once the people humbled themselves, the Lamanites began to ease up a little. The Nephites were not treated as badly as before, but they remained in bondage.

Hannah hated to see so much suffering among her people, but at the same time grew more optimistic that the Lord would soon take mercy on them. She had seen her own share of heartbreak over the years. Only a year after Zerach was killed, her mother finally succumbed to illness. Her final words to her family admonished them to stay faithful to the Lord.

Adaya found a good man and married within a year of their mother’s passing. Just another year after that, Hannah met Jacob. His family had been converted to the Lord after the first battle with the Lamanites and they were eventually married.

All the while, King Limhi cautioned them to be on the look out for the priests of Noah who would come into the settlements and steal food. Limhi also admonished the people to provide for the orphans and widows of the battles. He also never went outside the city without his bodyguards. It was on one of these outings that he met a man called Ammon.

At first, Limhi believed him to be part of the wicked priests and threw him into prison. Once this proved to be a misunderstanding, Limhi welcomed him with open arms. Ammon taught the people and many of them accepted the gospel and wanted to be baptized, Hannah’s family among them.

Limhi gathered the people together one day to have them all decide what to do about getting out of bondage. It was decided that the only way was to escape. They knew there was no way they could win their freedom, so they decided to take all their families and get out.

It was Gideon’s idea to get the Lamanite guards drunk and then sneak past them as they slept. Now, Hannah waited with her children, grasping Jacob’s hand and praying for the all clear signal. Soon, they heard Ammon’s voice telling them to move forward. They began their perilous journey out the secret pass past the sleeping guards. She did not breathe until her family was clear of them.

The farther away they got, the more Hannah began to relax. Her joy was complete when they finally topped a rise and Hannah saw the city of Zarahemla. Jacob picked her up and swung her around. Their children laughed and danced around them as they made their way to a life of freedom and joy in a new land.

9: The Unsheathing

by Britt Kelly

He had said it. The strange man with the pale face and unyielding arms had said the name of the Great God in the throne room. Ever since her father’s dream so many years ago she thought she would be the one to say his name. Over and over she had imagined herself teaching the King and Queen and all of her people about the Great God her father had seen. How he had come down from the sky and about the wounds in His hands and His feet. She knew they wouldn’t understand the wounds at first, as she had not, but in her dreams he Great God would wield her words as a mighty sword and change the hearts of her people. She would speak as her father had with penetrating power. She had loved to hear her father talk. Her father had always told her service to the King and Queen would allow her to be an instrument in the hand of the Great God. Yet years of washing the blood of the King’s diffident servants from the throne room steps had slowed her tongue. Whether it was from fear or patience, her bold truths remained encased in her mind.

Yet now the truth was known.

The Nephite had said all her father had known and so much more. The man who had shed blood so easily had brought the name of the great God before the King. He had protected the King’s flocks with the indomitable power of his sword. She had seen the arms herself, and blamed the strange man instead of the careless, cowering servants for the blood she would have to clean from the throne room floor. This bold man had said the name of the wounded God was Christ. Then he had explained the wounds and the plan of peace. She was bordering between respect and resentment for the Nephite who had lived her dream.

Her memory of all that had happened in the throne room that afternoon filled her mind as she went about her evening chores. She bent at the river, letting her work allow the amazement to overtake her anger. Her father had been right, she had felt that all along, but to hear a stranger use the same words to describe the Great God had overwhelmed her. Her mind raced through his words like a hummingbird, from the creation of all things to the wounding of the God and back again.

“Abish!” The sharpness of the call focused her mind. “The King has been killed by the powers of the pale man. The queen wants you to sit with her.” Abish startled. Sit with the queen? If the King was sick, she would sit with the Queen; if he was dead, she would need to wash the King, burn his clothes and make funeral robes. Confused, she hurriedly strapped the baskets of water to the goats and tried to hurry them back to the King’s house. She must be prepared at this moment with the water of mourning or the comfort her Queen needed. As she rushed the resistant goats, she could hear the dissonant cries of mourning from the King’s daughters.

She found the Queen by the King’s pallet; he lay motionless. Her glance at the King made her keep the jar of water in her hands as she knelt waiting the orders of the Queen. She didn’t have to wait long. The Queen in all her calm self-possession was a torrent under the surface. She waved the water away, looked at Abish and as slowly as only her royal discipline could allow demanded, “Tell me my husband is not dead.” It was a direct order. Abish looked more carefully at the King. What could bring a man of such bearing and strength to such an enfeebled state? How could such an alert man ever lie so senseless? His eyes were closed, his chest betrayingly still. Abish had never lied to the Queen, so she once again retreated to the safety of her practiced silence, hoping the queen required her ears not her tongue.

Her patience was rewarded; the Queen drew in a breath of strength and began “I didn’t see what enticed my husband to leave his throne. The servants said the strange man never touched the King, he just spoke about the Great Spirit; but when I came to the throne room, the King was on his knees, and unresponsive.” The queen reached protectively for her king’s shoulder causing an unwelcome clatter from her bangles. “The servants said his last words were about mercy. Why would he ask anyone for mercy? He was at his throne, surrounded by his men; how could there be danger from one Nephite?” Abish could see the Queen struggle to rein in her rushing thoughts, “Why do the servants not agree on what happened to their own King? Some say the man cast a spell on him, others say he spoke with power of the Great Spirit and even knew his name. “As the Queen ended, Abish became calm, steeling herself. This should be her unsheathing. She poised ready to be an instrument in the hands of God.

The Queen then, in her decided manner, quickly called for her husband’s servants. One by one they came and told the Queen of what had happened. All of the shepherds agreed that the master Ammon, for that was the Nephite’s name, had power from the Great Spirit; they felt the King was not dead but resting in the peace of the Great Spirit. Other servants spoke of the Nephite’s deceit. From the moment he had entered the King’s court they knew it was a plot against the King, and now that their King was dead, they came with their garments torn in the manner of mourning spitting at even the mention of the name of Ammon. They begged the Queen to let them bury their King with honor. Abish sat bewildered, her mind filled with repartees based on her ever observant mind and all the knowledge of her father; yet she must be silent before men, especially men the Queen had summoned.

Evening came and Abish was called away to her chores. Her mind was filled with the things she should have said, so much that she could have told her Queen. After years of silence, the truths she treasured seemed buried too deep to surface. She knew this was her time, the time her father had spoken of when she would witness to the kingdom of the truth. She wondered if her father had felt this much apprehension, if the prophet Ammon ever knew weakness. The evening wore slowly into night. The queen continued her search for truth while Abish was gathering the animals to their shelters. She lost herself in the familiarity of her work and time passed quickly.

Abish spoke with the word gracefully pouring from her. She reminded the Queen of all the servants had said of the strange man, his powerful sword, accurate aim and gentle strength. Then she told the Queen of the greater power the man had; the power of God to do His work on the earth. Ammon was a prophet, a man who knew of the coming of a Savior. She recounted her father’s dream and his own long sleep after. She told the Queen everything she could remember and many things she never knew of the Great God which was called Christ. She felt the Master reinforcing her own weakness, overpowering her and edifying her. The words came through her, forming pictures she and the Queen could wonder at and learn from together. Near morning the Queen sat still while Abish stood up to once again do her chores, her head still floating. She had never before learned from what she herself had spoken. She had learned from her father’s words, and wondered at how he would pause and ponder at what he, himself, had just said. Now she knew that when the Master wielded his servant, the servant learned even while speaking. In the Master’s hands, the servant was a conduit of power touched and enlightened by all that flowed through it. The sword was purified and sharpened as it was formed and used, so with the servant of the Master. She pondered as she walked again to the well. She had served her Queen and her God well. She experienced the refreshing peace of having done what she had dreamed so long of doing. The Queen would summon Ammon, and would recognize him as a prophet.

Abish woke breathing as if after a run…it was a dream, just another dream. She had not spoken after all. She was still a servant girl, neither honoring her father nor the great God. She wept quietly in her overwhelming shame. All the mysteries and beauty in the dream was stale, kept too long in her mind.

Throughout the day Abish tried to focus on her many tasks, finding it necessary to soothe her fellow servants as she went. The servants’ worries had increased as the day progressed. The king had still not risen. Had the strong man tricked them all and somehow poisoned the king? Rumors flew among the servants. Abish wanted to comfort the Queen and share her knowledge, but her confidence was shaken. She found comfort in the only place she knew, her chores. There was much to be done. Many of the servants were fighting amongst themselves defending Ammon or flattering a son of the King to position themselves for future power. Amidst the conflict, water still had to be carried, animals fed and food prepared. Abish made herself useful to avoid the nagging pull that she should be serving elsewhere. After all, the Queen had called Ammon to the King’s side, yet still the King remained unchanged.

Abish would not prepare for a funeral as some servants did. She desperately, but quietly sided with those who believed the King lived. As long as the King lived, Ammon could still be revealed to her people as a prophet and she could still serve the Great God. She went through the day hoping that the King lived and she had not yet failed. If the King died, surely the only prophet she had ever met would be killed and with him the chance for her people to believe his words and find truth.

At the next sunrise, when Abish brought the water, the Queen was hopeful. Abish almost dropped the jar when she saw the change in the Queen’s eyes, she was calm and peaceful. Then tension and pleading of two days earlier had stilled either by her practiced royal determination, or some other force. She looked as Abish had always dreamed she would, after her conversion. It was Ammon. Abish shrunk into the corner feeling her complete shame. Had she been quiet to preserve her life for the right moment or had it all been weakness? Never mind , it was done and perhaps as it should be; the Great God had chosen a Nephite man to come that far way to do what she had not done. Or would not do. Or perhaps should not do. Maybe she was not meant to witness to the Queen but to live to observe it. Perhaps she was not worthy to preach of such a Great, Mysterious God.

In her self-pitying silence she nearly missed the ripple of energy that shook the room. The King stood! He spoke, and though he intended the words for his Queen, they burned Abish’s heart, remaking it, strengthening it, forging a new heart bursting with truth. The Great God still loved her. She could still serve Him. There was a place for her in his kingdom. She marveled at his love and the great light she felt burning within her. The treasure of her father given long ago was now glowing near the surface.

She could hear the King and Queen praying, Ammon the prophet praising Jesus, for that was the name of the wounded God. She saw the servants praying…and she joined with her own prayer of gratitude and amazement at the power of the Great God. One by one they fell to the earth overcome in the joy and an enveloping peace. The King and Queen had already fallen, Ammon and each of the servants fell; everyone fell into the sleep of the Great God, save Abish.

At first, little thoughts crept in her mind. What was she not feeling and experiencing? Why had she not fallen to the earth with the others? Should she continue praying? But she couldn’t think of anything more to pray. She stood up refusing to question. The light of her heart shone and she felt this, at long last, was her calling. All of her people needed to see the change that was happening to their King and Queen. They must know for themselves of the great God. Hadn’t her father spoken of the Great God gathering his people? Perhaps she was never meant to be his sword at all, but a simple servant to gather his people to hear the truth.

For the first time in her life, she left her servant’s duties and ran unsent out of the king’s house. She ran through the streets, going first to the place of her family. She had found her voice and though it still sounded tenuous to her, she could see the people responding. All of the King’s people had heard of his mysterious stillness, and had wondered and worried. Some ran with curiosity, some ran hoping the King would be dead, and some ran to hear of this God Abish had spoken of. Others ran to know the truth whatever it would be, but whatever their reasons, all who could, ran to the King’s throne. Even the shepherds and those in the fields had come at Abish’s summons.

As she finished gathering her people to hear God’s words she marveled. It had taken her much longer than she anticipated and she hastened to be in the King’s place to watch the King and Queen and the prophet Ammon testify in such a way as to change the hearts of the people. She was gathering her people, she was serving God.

Joy had carried her back to the King’s house, but once there a fierce contention overwhelmed her. A man lay near the prophet Ammon with his sword unsheathed and anger still clouding his face. Abish felt the dangerous pulsing of the crowd. The shouts of the crowd were frightening, “Monster Nephite! He must be killed”

“You kill the Nephite, I won’t touch him. He’s bewitched and any who dares approach the cursed ones will be cursed themselves!”

“The King is weak; he kills his own people, but not this Nephite! We need a new King!”

She looked at the King, his Queen, and Ammon still in their unmoving repose. Her tears flowed as she felt the weight of her failure. She needed someone with God’s power to raise those sleeping and to speak. Had she gathered her people for this? Had she misunderstood? Was her desire to run only to escape the isolation she had felt as the other servants had all been overwhelmed in the spirit of the Great God while she had been left untouched? The light that she thought had shone so brightly in her heart earlier flickered amidst the blasts of contention surrounding her.

They must rise.

A wave of clarity passed through Abish. She could remember her father filled with the power of God laying his hands on her mother’s head and her mother rising from her sick bed. That was the power she needed but lacked, yet the moment was here and would not wait. She moved hesitantly towards the Queen as she prayed and prayed for her rising. She hoped beyond hope that it would be enough, that she would be enough. The crowd seemed to pulse more slowly and the noise seemed far away and blurred. She walked around the fallen man, stepping over his outstretched sword. What would happen when she touched the Queen? Would she herself die? Would the Queen really rise? Or would nothing happen at all? Uncalled and unanointed as she felt, Abish knew what was needed and felt the power of God surge through her. The power of the Savior must be enough. This would either finally be her true unsheathing or it would break her.

She knelt down gently and reached to take the hand of her Queen. Through the power of Jesus and the piercing touch of Abish, the Queen rose. Abish fell forward and like a rushing wind the clamor of the crowd came back. The Queen, indomitable, praised Jesus with a loud voice then continued to speak many words that at first Abish could not understand. As Abish stared up at the Queen, trying to understand her words, it was as if her father was whispering their meaning to her. His voice became so strong, she turned expecting to see him and instead saw angels surrounding her. She turned wonderingly and saw angels accompany the Queen as she raised the King, helping to steady him. Other angels raised the servants who had fallen. The beauty was like nothing she had ever seen.

She would always pause at this point when she later told of the angels she saw that day and all they had taught her. Some things didn’t go into words easily. It all sounded so distant and miraculous, while the change in her heart was so real. On that long ago day, the power of God had caused the King to rise and calm his people; all had heard of the truth of the Great God. The power of God had pierced the hearts of the people and many had converted. The sword that had been unsheathed to divide and change her people had changed to a gentle wind easing their way. The hand that had wielded the sword now comforted and calmed. Chores still needed to be done, food still needed to be prepared and contentions still happened, yet the people were different. There was a softness and openness, even in the King and Queen. Nephites came and went and trade increased. There was less maneuvering for power and more seeking for truth. Abish still gathered goats and carried water, but with peace in her heart and a story ready to be told.

8: Useful

by Melanie Goldmund

Reaching into the box, Kimnor sifted through all of the smooth, glowing stones, then pulled out one and held it in his palm. They were all similar in shape and size, but this one was smaller than the others, and Kimnor felt a kind of kinship with it. His ancestors had crossed the great water with these stones lighting their way, one in each end of their barges, and nobody had rejected any of the stones for being too small or too weak. They’d all had their place and had all been useful, no matter what their size. Certainly the other stones had not united themselves against the smallest one and told it to stay behind, not like Kimnor’s brothers had done with him.

It was true that Kimnor was the youngest, and the smallest, and – though he hated to admit it – the weakest of his father’s sons. It was also true that his right leg was one fingerwidth shorter than his left, and that his right foot was deformed enough to make walking and running difficult for him. But he could still ride a horse, shoot with a bow, and aim a slingshot with deadly accuracy. Surely some of his skills would be of help in the mission to rescue their father, the true king! However, his oldest brother, Kib, had dismissed him as being of no more worth to their plans than the women and young children of the royal household, and the implication hurt, deeply.

Kimnor sighed, and put the smallest stone to his forehead, hoping it would enlighten his understanding and show him how he could be useful and help rescue his father. Even now, generations after crossing the great deep, the stones retained their glow, and surely that meant that Kimnor could coax another miracle out of them! But then his hand slipped and the stone fell to the floor. Disappointed, Kimnor picked it up. If that was the answer no, then he really should leave the stones alone and go ride out instead, go visit his favourite spot where a huge boulder jutted out of the side of a nearby hill.

Kimnor put the stone back in the box and closed the lid. He’d been about ten when his father, King Shule, had brought him into the windowless room and shown him the stones for the first time, telling him their story. He’d never objected, either, whenever Kimnor had come back time and again “just for one quick look,” although he’d always cautioned that the stones were not playthings. Now, five years later, it was the first time Kimnor had come alone and opened the box by himself, but although the stones were still shining, it was obviously not a time for new miracles.

If their wicked kinsman, Noah, truly did kill King Shule, would he come here and take the stones away? Did he know about them? And would they shine for someone as wicked as Noah must be? He’d rebelled against King Shule, and during the ensuing battle, he’d captured him, taking him as a prisoner back to the land of Moron. Kimnor had heard many stories about kings being kept in captivity, all too often by their own sons, but now Noah was threatening to actually kill King Shule on the day of the full moon. Murder of this kind was unheard of! If Noah was capable of such a thing, who knew what else he might do? Kimnor promised himself he’d keep the stones safe from such a wicked man if the worst happened, if Kib and his other brothers weren’t successful in their attempt to rescue their father. He could take the stones away and hide them – his favourite spot would be a good place.

Kimnor opened the door just enough to peer out and make sure that nobody was in the next room, his father’s library, then crossed to the window and climbed out. After getting his horse from the stables, he set off for the hill, meaning to look around and see if there were any natural hiding places there. As they approached the rock, however, Kimnor’s horse stopped and snorted uncertainly. Kimnor was immediately alert for anything out of the ordinary, but though he looked and listened, he could not discover the source of his horse’s unease. Gently, he urged it on again, and after some initial reluctance, the animal continued up the path.

Kimnor checked again before he dismounted, but all was quiet, and his horse was no longer spooked. Leaving it to graze, Kimnor climbed up to the top of the rock. Once, the climb had been a real test, an obstacle that required every bit of his strength and determination, but now its difficulty was slowly diminishing. At last, Kimnor gained his objective, and looked out through the trees and across the city in the the valley.

Seeing his father’s palace among the other, smaller buildings reminded him of the stones, and his purpose for coming up, and Kimnor stepped from the rock onto the hillside again. He was halfway to the bottom of the boulder when something huge and black jumped at him, knocking him down with its weight and momentum. As it sank its teeth into his neck, Kimnor screeched in shock and pain. The beast had pinned his right arm under its massive paw, but he flailed savagely with his left, trying at the same time to roll himself out from under it.

The Creator sent me. I will be useful to you.

Thinking that somebody had spoken, Kimnor shrieked, “Help! Help me!”

The animal lifted its muzzle and stared directly into his eyes. Two of its teeth dripped with blood, teeth longer than Kimnor had ever seen, but suddenly, they shifted in the beast’s mouth, retracting until they were as short as the others. Licking its lips, the beast then turned its head and looked at where Kimnor was hitting it with one hand.

Stop that.

Surprised, Kimnor did. He could see the animal better now; it had dark markings over even darker fur, and the markings reminded him of the skin of a jaguar that he’d once seen. But this jaguar was much bigger, and there was intelligence in its eyes as it turned back to look at him again.

I thank you for the blood.

“What?” Kimnor asked, and the jaguar stepped off him. Kimnor sat up, probing frantically at his neck, expecting to find that it had been chewed away and his head left scarcely attached to his body. Except for two tiny spots, however, there were no wounds, and nothing hurt. His fingertips found moisture and then went numb; Kimnor looked at them in alarm. They were wet, but not with blood.

I can change now. Then I will heal your wound.

Kimnor looked around to see who was speaking, but could only see the black jaguar, sitting much too close and watching him as though expecting an answer. A little cloud of thick black fog oozed directly out of the beast itself, covering him from sight, and then it disappeared. The jaguar had disappeared, too, and in its place was something else. Kimnor saw huge ears, strangely shaped nostrils, and forelegs that weren’t forelegs at all, but – wings! Extending them slightly, the creature waddled forward on its two hind feet, then leaned its long snout forward towards Kimnor’s neck. Kimnor pulled away, and the creature flapped its wings to regain its balance.

I will lick the wound. Then it will heal.

There was no mistake. Somehow, the creature – this thing that had been a jaguar before and was now the biggest bat Kimnor had ever seen – was speaking to him. He hadn’t seen any movement of jaws or lips, and yet he’d definitely heard a voice. The bat leaned forward again, supported itself by carefully placing his upper wing-claws on Kimnor’s shoulders, then licked the spots on Kimnor’s neck three times before waddling away again.

Kimnor fingered his skin, but the two punctures had disappeared and there was nothing to indicate that anything had ever happened.

It is healed.

“How did you do that?” Kimnor asked. “What are you?”

I am cumom.

Kimnor looked at the animal. It gazed back at him. Kimnor said, “You’re speaking, right? To me?”

I speak.

“You’re not making any sound – how can I hear you?”

This is a great gift from the Creator.

“So, if you can talk to me, why didn’t you say something before you jumped on me?” Kimnor demanded.

We drink man blood. Then we can talk to man.

“Oh.” Kimnor considered this. “Why did you want my blood? Just because you wanted to talk?”

We are cumoms. Cumoms must change, then we can mate. Cumoms must drink man blood, then we can change. We do not drink all blood in man. We take some. We change. Then we heal wounds. We fertilize man’s fields. Food from those fields is better for man. Then man has better blood. Then we need less blood from man. Then we heal man better. Then man and cumoms grow stronger, mate better. Cumoms and man have more children. Bigger children. Stronger. Faster. Cumoms are useful to man. Man is useful to cumoms.

Skipping over growth and reproduction, Kimnor got to the interesting part. “Do you need to drink blood every time you want to change?”

A little man blood is enough for many changes.

“Can you fly? Can you carry me when you fly?” Kimnor had forgotten all about the shining stones and was thinking instead of other ways to help his father.

I am strong, and useful to man. I will carry you.

Kimnor limped around to the other side of the cumom and approached it with curiosity. The cumom leaned forward until it was crouching on the ground, using its lower wing claws like hands, and Kimnor could see immediately that he wouldn’t be able to straddle it like a horse. Its wings were connected to its body all the way down its torso, and there was no mane for him to hold onto. He gripped a shoulder in each hand, and arranged himself across the cumom’s back as best he could, his feet sticking out over its tail. When the cumom flapped its wings, however, he could feel its shoulder joints moving, and as it took off, it went up at such an angle that Kimnor lost his grip and slid right down to the ground again.

The cumom landed in front of him. Are you hurt?

“No,” Kimnor said with a sigh. “I just can’t ride you like a horse, that’s all.”

I am not a horse, the cumom said.

“I know,” Kimnor said, and watched the cumom fold its wings. “I was hoping that if I could fly you, I could help rescue my father. But it’s not going to work like that.”

Unwilling to give up, he thought for a moment. “Is there some other way you can carry me? Can you hold me in your claws?”

He stretched his arms up and looked questioningly at the cumom. It launched itself into flight, swooped around, and caught Kimnor’s wrists in its claws. As it yanked him off his feet and into the air, Kimnor shrieked with surprise, and the cumom said, Stop that. I cannot hear where I am going.

Kimnor shut his mouth and didn’t dare ask what it meant, although it sounded too important to ignore. The tops of the trees were much too close to his feet, and the ground was dangerously far away. All too soon, his shoulders and wrists began to ache unbearably, and he finally had to whisper, “Can you put me down now?”

He worried that even his quiet request would cause the cumom to crash, but though it didn’t, the landing was still somewhat rough. Kimnor’s momentum forced him to take several steps once he touched the ground, but his deformed foot couldn’t keep up with the speed demanded of it, and he tripped, landing on his face. “Umph!”

After landing nearby and hobbling back, the cumom said, Even a cumom cannot learn to fly in a day, baby man.

“My name is Kimnor, not ‘baby man’,” Kimnor announced indignantly and sat up. “And I’m practically full-grown!”

I am named Strongclaw, the cumom said. And I am full-grown.

“You have a name?” Kimnor asked, surprised. “Do you have a family, too? Brothers or sisters?”

One mother. One father. One sister. No mate. No children.

“I’ve got more brothers than I’ve got fingers on my hands,” Kimnor mused. “They’ve gone to help rescue my father, everybody except me. They didn’t think I could keep up, because of my foot, but I could help them in other ways!”

After folding his wings and using his wingtip claws to help him balance, Strongclaw asked, Where is your father?

Kimnor explained about Noah and King Shule, and finished his story by exclaiming, “If I could just figure out some way for me to fly you, then I could be really useful!”

He stared at Strongclaw, who looked awkward in his upright position, and wondered if the cumom wouldn’t be more comfortable hanging upside down from a tree branch. Thinking of branches, and things that hung from them, reminded Kimnor of the rope swing near the palace, and suddenly, Kimnor knew how Strongclaw could carry him.

“A swing!” he exclaimed. “All we need is a rope, a branch or something to tie it to, and a board for me to sit on! Then you can grab the branch, and I can hang onto the rope! Come on, let’s go get it, and then if we hurry, we can catch up with my brothers!”


They found Kimnor’s brothers just outside the city of Moron. Kimnor had made a new swing, instead of disappointing his younger sisters by cutting down the old one, and he and Strongclaw had tried a practice flight before setting out. Although the swing worked well, Kimnor was already thinking of improvements. Except for the addition of an extra rope harness under his arms and around his chest, however, he hadn’t taken time to implement any of them.

While flying Kimnor most of the way, Strongclaw had also insisted on landing every so often and assuming his four-legged form to sniff around. Kimnor had been amazed to learn that Strongclaw could distinguish by smell all the other humans on the road.

Brothers smell like you, Strongclaw had explained, and led Kimnor directly to their camp. The not-quite-full moon was rising, and Kimnor could see them sitting around the fire. When they got closer, he could even hear their voices as they discussed various rescue strategies. Then the horses caught a whiff of cumom and whinnied in alarm, and the men heard the flapping of Strongclaw’s wings. Leaping to their feet, they drew their swords or drew their bows in defense.

“It’s me!” Kimnor shouted, putting his feet down and skidding to a stop. He reached up to catch the thick branch that held the swing, and Strongclaw let go. “It’s me, it’s Kimnor!”

“Kimnor!” His oldest brother, Kib, stared first at him and then at Strongclaw as the cumom landed behind Kimnor. “What? Is? That?”

“This is Strongclaw, he’s a cumom, he’s come to help us rescue Father! Don’t hurt him!” Kimnor extended his arms protectively. “He’s a friend!”

“A giant bat?” Kib grunted.

“No, he’s a cumom, look! Strongclaw, change!”

Strongclaw folded his wings, then disappeared into a column of black fog, emerging in his four-legged form. The men gasped, and Kimnor grinned proudly. “That’s not all he can do! He can talk to me in my mind, and he can heal wounds just by licking them!”

“What?” Kib gaped at him.

“If I could just sit down by the fire, I’ll explain everything,” Kimnor said. “Flying is cold!”

The men moved to make room. Kimnor urged Strongclaw to come sit next to him, and the men made even more room, until they were all crowded on the opposite side of the fire. Most of them had lowered their weapons, but none had put them away completely. By the time Kimnor had finished explaining, the men had forgotten all about their swords, and simply gaped.

“It drinks your blood?” Kib was horrified.

“Not very much,” Kimnor defended him, and when Kib repeated his sentence again, he added, “My blood has something in it that he needs to change! And when he’s changed, he can fly me – he’s carried me all the way here. And like I said before, he can heal wounds with his tongue!”

“Show me,” demanded Shared, one of the other brothers. He came over to Kimnor’s side of the fire, then sliced the blade of his sword across the back of his own arm and held it out. “Can he heal that?”

“Can you, Strongclaw?” Kimnor asked. Without replying, Strongclaw assumed his winged form and extended his tongue, licking the shallow cut three times. Shared probed the skin where the wound had been, then exclaimed, “Not even a scar!”

He showed it around, and the men jostled for the chance to take a closer look, muttering in astonishment.

“This is wrong,” Kib stated as Strongclaw changed back. “Drinking blood is wrong. Changing like that is wrong. I say so, and when we get Father back – without the help of this thing – Father’ll say so, too.”

“How can it be wrong if it helps us?” Kimnor pleaded. “And how do we know we can rescue Father without Strongclaw’s help?”

“The Lord will provide a way,” Kib said, folding his arms across his chest and glaring at Kimnor.

Kimnor folded his arms in the same way and stared back. “But He has! He sent us Strongclaw! Strongclaw, tell him what you told me, that the Creator sent you, and that the Creator gave you the gift of being able to talk to us!”

I can talk to you, Strongclaw said. I drank your blood. I can drink his blood. Then I can speak to him.

After a moment, Shared asked, “Did he say anything?”

“He said he can talk to you if he drinks some of your blood,” Kimnor repeated.

“He got some of my blood on his tongue when he was licking me,” Shared said. “Why can’t I hear him?”

It was not a proper drink, Strongclaw explained, and when Kimnor relayed his words, Shared looked disappointed.

“I am not letting that thing anywhere near my blood!” Kib announced. “This is not the answer to our prayers.”

“Yes, it is,” Kimnor insisted. They glared at each other until Shared sighed and said, “Why don’t we let Kimnor come along with it anyway, then see what Father says after we’ve rescued him?”

Eventually, Kib gave in, but only, as he pointed out, because they didn’t have much time left. Once he’d accepted that Strongclaw was going to be part of the rescue team whether he liked it or not, he even suggested that Strongclaw fly Kimnor up onto the city wall with a rope for the rest of the men to climb up. The only guards were at the main gate, and the brothers chose a stretch of the wall where the moon shadow of the temple would conceal their activities. Then Strongclaw lifted Kimnor up and lowered him onto the walkway that ran around the inside of the wall. Once Kimnor was sure of his footing, he slipped off the wooden seat and uncoiled the rope from around his middle. The uppermost part of the wall was made of wooden posts, with gaps between them at regular intervals, where guards could stand and shoot arrows at any attackers. After tying the rope to two of those posts, Kimnor tossed it over the side, not surprised to see Kib grab it first.

“This city is huge!” Kimnor whispered when Kib had joined him on the walkway. “Where would they keep Father?”

“Probably in the palace,” Kib said, indicating a building that looked exactly like their own residence at home.

Kimnor turned to the cumom. “Strongclaw, can you find my father there?”

I will smell, Strongclaw said. He assumed his four-legged form, jumped from the walkway, and ran off. When he returned, he said, He is there.

“Did you hear that?” Kimnor asked, excited. “He said Father’s there!”

Kib gave him a disgusted look and strode away. Coming closer, Shared asked, “Can he tell where?”

When all the brothers were inside the city, Strongclaw led them to an outside wall of the palace. If it had been their own residence, Kimnor thought, the room would have been the library with its annex. There was even a shuttered window in exactly the same position.

The scent is strongest here, Strongclaw reported. Kimnor told the others, then added, “I’ll open it from the inside!”

Just as at home, there was an interior courtyard right outside the room, where Strongclaw set him down, and when he’d opened the window shutters, Kimnor could see that this room was also used as a library. The door to the annex had been boarded up, and Kimnor had a feeling he knew why. His brothers were still climbing in, one at a time, when light filled the room and a group of men appeared at the doorway, holding torches and swords

“As loud as a herd of unhappy donkeys,” said the first man.

“Noah,” Kib growled, and pushed Kimnor behind him. Staggering to catch his balance, Kimnor gritted his teeth, knowing that Kib was right to protect him, but still hating it. He had weapons, but his bow was slung across his back, and there wasn’t room to use his slingshot. Watching them, Noah sneered. “So desperate to get your father back that you had to bring your crippled brother, too?”

The insult stung, and Kimnor was grateful when Shared stepped up next to him and said, “He’s got his uses.”

Noah shrugged. “I’d still hate to have to kill him. Be like slaughtering a defenceless woman or child.”

“I’m not defenceless!” Kimnor exclaimed, looking beyond Noah to catch a glimpse of Strongclaw, but the men blocked his view of the courtyard.

“Wouldn’t be any honour in it,” Noah continued. “So … I’ll offer you a duel, Kib. Our best fighter against yours, to the death. I win, we let the cripple go and kill the rest of you. You win—” he sounded distinctly doubtful—”we let you all go, even Shule.”

“Right,” said Kib without hesitating. He and Noah shook hands, then stepped back, and the men spread out into the courtyard to give them room. Again, Kimnor searched for Strongclaw and finally spotted a familiar dark shape behind one of the pillars. Relieved, he turned his attention back to the fight, willing Kib to win. Kib was younger and stronger, but Noah had more experience, and managed to wound his thigh. With rage fueled by pain, Kib threw Noah to the ground with such force that he skidded into Strongclaw. The cumom spread his wings to keep his balance, Noah screeched in fear, and Kib took advantage of the moment to ram his sword into the older man’s heart.

“What is that?” one of Noah’s men gasped, and they all moved towards Strongclaw with their swords.

“Stay back!” Kib said. He’d been leaning on his sword, now he pulled it out of the body and brandished it. Noah’s men hesitated, and Kib went on, “That thing’s with us.”

Shared pointed his own sword at the man who’d spoken. “Where is King Shule?”

The young man gulped, still staring at Strongclaw, then said, “There,” and led Shared and a few of the other brothers back to the library. Another brother went to Kib’s side to check his wound. Kimnor remained behind, in case Noah’s men thought about attacking the cumom, but they kept their distance, watching Strongclaw warily and not even daring to carry Noah’s body away. From the library, Kimnor could clearly hear the sound of grunting, then wood splintering, and a cry of triumph. When his brothers returned, Shared had a limp form draped over his shoulder.

“Father?” Kimnor asked. “Is he dead?”

“He’s alive,” Shared said, laying him down carefully. “But he’s been flogged.”

Kimnor glanced worriedly at the bloody mess that had once been his father’s back, then said. “Strongclaw can heal him, right, Strongclaw?”

“Don’t let that thing touch him!” Kib cried. He took a step in Strongclaw’s direction, but his leg buckled and he went down on one knee with a strangled cry. The brother that was helping him pulled off his own tunic and placed it over the sword cut, holding it in place.

Kimnor ignored Kib’s outburst and urged Strongclaw on. Waddling over to where King Shule lay, the cumom extended his long tongue and licked the wounds methodically from shoulders to waist. The blood disappeared, the flesh became smooth again, and at long last, their father’s back was as perfect as though it had never been injured. Noah’s men gaped in amazement, Strongclaw sank back, and King Shule opened his eyes.

“Kimnor? Shared?” he asked. “What—?”

“We came to rescue you!” Kimnor announced. King Shule sat up and looked around quizzically, then caught sight of Strongclaw.

“This is Strongclaw,” Kimnor said. “He’s a cumom – he healed you!”

“Cumom?” King Shule asked.

“They drink your blood!” Kib exclaimed. “It’s wrong, it’s all wrong, Father! Something like that can’t be right! Shared, get Father out of here.”

“Strongclaw can fly him back. It’ll be easier,” Kimnor said, and Shared agreed. Kimnor glanced around, found the rope swing where he’d left it, and picked it up. “Father, you can sit on this, and Strongclaw will carry you.”

“I feel so weak,” King Shule admitted. “I can’t hang on. Could he carry us both?”

Kimnor listened to Strongclaw’s answer and said, “He can, but just a short distance.”

“Please?” King Shule asked, including Strongclaw in his request, and the cumom agreed.

Kimnor sat down on the swing and awkwardly held his father in his lap. Just before Strongclaw lifted them up, Kimnor glanced over to where Kib had sunk to a sitting position, and offered, “We can carry you back, too.”

But Kib merely grimaced and looked away.

During the entire flight to the camp, Kimnor could fcel his father trembling, and didn’t know whether it was weakness, cold, or fear. They tumbled to a landing, and his father remained where he was. After finding a blanket for him to wrap up in, Kimnor built up the fire, then helped him to move closer to the flames. When his stomach growled, it occurred to him that his father might also be hungry, and he checked the packs until he’d found food and drink.

Shared’s horse gallopped into camp soon after, with Shared holding Kib’s limp body in front of him.

“He’s fainted,” Shared explained as he dismounted and pulled Kib off. “He’s losing a lot of blood. I’ve got some medical supplies in my pack …”

Kimnor brought the pack that Shared indicated. “Strongclaw can heal him.”

Shared hesitated. “You know what Kib thinks about … him.”

Glancing at his father, Kimnor saw that King Shule had fallen asleep, and he had to make the decision on his own. “If it’s a bad wound, he needs all the help he can get, and he can take it up with me later, when he’s healed. Strongclaw?”

I need more man blood. Then I can heal more, the cumom replied.

“I’ll lay down,” Kimnor said. “Make it easier for you.”

When he’d settled down next to Kib and was watching Strongclaw change to his four-legged form, he suddenly remembered the first time the cumom had drunk from him, and clenched his fists in silent apprehension of the pain to come. But when the cumom sank his teeth into Kimnor’s neck, it was nothing worse than pricking his finger on a thorn, and Kimnor was so relieved that he almost laughed aloud. He must have made a sound, because Shared asked quietly, “Does that hurt?”

“No!” he scoffed.

I thank you for the blood. Strongclaw sat back and assumed his winged form, and Kimnor shot upright in his eagerness to prove that everything was fine. Dizziness and darkness threatened to overwhelm him, however, and he fell back. When his vision cleared and his head stopped spinning, Kimnor rolled carefully onto his side to watch the healing. It seemed to Kimnor that the process took longer than it had for King Shule’s back, but at last the wound disappeared completely and Strongclaw moved away.

Kib opened his eyes, sat up and inspected his thigh, then shot Kimnor a look of disappointed betrayal.

“You can hit me if you want,” Kimnor said. “I only wanted to help you.”

Kib got to his feet and tested his leg, his frown growing deeper all the while. At last he turned to Shared and said, “If I change into one of those things, I want you to kill me.”

“Who better to stab you in the back than your own brother?” Shared joked, but Kib nodded as though he’d said something serious, then stalked away into the darkness.

“He won’t turn into a cumom, will he, Strongclaw?” Kimnor asked, running his hand down the cumom’s furry back.

Cumoms change, Strongclaw replied. Man remains man.

Kimnor told Shared what Strongclaw had said, then added, “Why would Kib think such a thing?”

“Kib doesn’t want anybody to know, but he’s always been a bit strange,” Shared said, pausing dramatically, then added, “Especially when it comes to seeing his own blood, though he doesn’t care when it’s someone else’s. Mind you, though, it could have something to do with those wings growing out of your back.”

Kimnor glanced over his shoulder in panic, then joined in Shared’s laughter at his own gullibility.

7: Father’s Sword

by Charlie Moore

Kelihah watched his father pray, his brow furrowed with fascination. Keli remained on his knees for a long time praying to Heavenly Father, his words soft yet meaningful and his head bowed in reference. The young boy was intrigued by his father’s commitment and humble nature.

When his father finished praying the little boy spoke, asking, “Why do you pray so much, father? You are the commander of righteous men fighting to protect the gospel. Surely the Lord will always protect you.”

“Kelihah,” his father reproached him, “you must never become comfortable in assuming things. I pray to Heavenly Father because I need strength and guidance. I need it every day. Also, I want to tell Heavenly Father that I love and worship him every day.”

Listening to his father brought confusion to the young boy. He saw a man who commanded Nephite soldiers in righteous battles and he always won. Kelihah thought it was because his father was a great warrior and he wanted to be like his father one day. Could it really be true his father won all his battles because he prayed. Kelihah tried to focus his attention on this concept.

He did not pray every day like his father, but Kelihah knew how to pray. If his father prayed so much, he decided, it probably covered him as well. Yet, he thought on the words his father had spoken. Kelihah could see prayer was important to his father. He made a commitment to soon start praying more, like his father.

Keli had left to train with the Nephite soldiers he commanded and Kelihah scooted off into a wooded area near their home. The area, thick with foliage, with several small clearings, was a favorite place for Kelihah to play – and to think. When he was left alone he often retreated to the woods. And again, it was because he’d seen his father go into the woods alone many times.

A bright sun filtered through the tall trees warming Kelihah’s skin. His bronze color testified of his desire to be outside with the sun baking his skin. Staying inside was not an option. He had to be outside like his father. Sounds reached the young boy from the Nephite soldiers as they trained. He listened carefully to his father’s distant voice giving his men orders and teaching them how to be righteous fighters.

Kelihah’s father and the Nephite soldiers battled against the Lamanites. Kelihah had been taught somewhat about the Lamanites from his parents and knew they were a people who had rejected the Lord’s gospel and lived in various stages of sin. They also had an army and they wanted to destroy the Nephites. Kelihah realized the time would come when his father would grow old and he would have to take over commanding the Nephite soldiers. He must prepare. Following his father’s example, Kelihah knelt down in a clearing and began to pray, his small frame peaceful in reverence.

Almost before he could begin his prayer, Kelihah heard a piercing yell. Jumping up, he ran through the trees to see what caused the alarming sound. When he reached the edge of the woods bordering his village he came up short. The yell, or scream, had actually been a command from his father to the Nephite soldiers. Lamanite warriors had silently come upon the Nephite village to destroy it and Keli had ordered his men to stop their advance. Kelihah stayed out of sight and watched as the battle raged. His father drew his sword from its sheath and plunged it through the heart of an oncoming Lamanite. Kelihah watched and wondered how one man could do that to another man. His father always talked to him about peace and yet he watched him kill. It didn’t make sense.

Soon the brief skirmish was over and Kelihah’s father was ordering his men to clean up the area and dispose of the fallen Lamanites. Kelihah waited a while longer and then returned to the village. Keli saw his son and walked toward him. Kelihah had never seen his father as he had that day and he had many questions. His father was wise and knew he must explain his actions.

“You won another battle, father. But you killed that man with your sword after you prayed to Heavenly Father for peace,” Kelihah sought counsel from his father. “I am confused.”

Keli saw the confusion in the dark brown eyes of his young son. “I always pray for peace, son, but sometimes we have to do difficult things to make peace happen. We are challenged daily by the Lamanites and now they bring the fight into our own village. Peace and the gospel can only have fullness if we eliminate the threat against it. The Lamanites are a threat.”

The young boy listened to his father while they ate the evening meal. His mother waited for the men to finish and also listened to her husband. Kelihah wondered why his mother always waited for him and his father to finish eating before she ate. He surmised it must be a thing that women just did. Maybe it was a tradition of some sort. Kelihah’s father often spoke of Nephite traditions.

As Keli finished the last of his bread he announced he’d be gone for several days. “I must take the soldiers and battle the Lamanites in their own land. The skirmish today taught me to not be passive. I must look after the safety of this village and the women and children. When the sun crests the horizon I will leave with the Nephite army under my command to fight against our enemy, the Lamanites, on neutral ground or in their own land.”

“I must learn to fight so I can go with you, father,” Kelihah said.

“You are young, son, and your time is not yet come. But one day when you become a man I will teach you to fight and to do it for the sake of righteousness. For now you must stay here in the village and take care of your mother.”

Like any young boy wanting to be like his father, Kelihah’s face was etched with disappointment. He knew, however, not to doubt his father. His father was a kind man, but his authority was not to be questioned. So Kelihah nodded his head and with respect told his father he’d take good care of his mother.

Kelihah had ideas of his own. Mother did not need a boy to watch over her, at least not all the time. He would take his father’s old sword into the woods and practice. He would practice everyday while his father was gone and show him he wasn’t so young. Kelihah would convince his father he could fight like any of the Nephite soldiers. But Kelihah also felt sad and just a little afraid. Every time his father left the village with his Nephite soldiers he felt this way. He was ashamed and wanted to be like his father, all grown up and strong.

Soon morning came, the bright sun cresting the horizon and promising scorching heat for later in the day. Keli formed his soldiers into solid lines and they began their march away from the village. Finding the Lamanites would not be difficult for they were a bold people – secure in their feelings of superiority – who saw no reason to hide. True they had fortified some of their villages, but Keli knew of the weak points and these he would exploit.

Kelihah slept through the departure of the Nephite soldiers and his father. When he awoke he was very upset. Why did his father have to leave so early? Kelihah quickly dressed and ran to the edge of the village hoping for a glimpse of his father. There was nothing to see.

When Kelihah returned home he found his mother preparing a meal. “I am not hungry right now, mother. I am going into the woods to practice.”

“What are you going to practice, Kelihah?” his mother asked.

“It is not important, mother. I will be learning to play a new game.”

Kelihah scurried off before his mother could ask further questions. Kelihah wanted to be like his father – a fighting man who led men and wasn’t afraid – and he didn’t have time for the worries of his mother. When he got to the clearing he realized he’d left his father’s old sword behind. Upset, he picked up a few rocks and began throwing them at a tree. While this helped ease his aggressive craving, he also noticed his accuracy. Every rock was hitting the tree.

Perhaps there was a way he could use rocks as weapons. If it was that easy to hit a tree, it could also be easy to throw a bigger rock at Lamanite soldiers. He let this new idea form in his head, but he still wanted to practice with his father’s sword. Killing the enemy like his father did would prove to his father he was indeed a man, all grown up and without fear.

In the back of his mind, Kelihah also remembered the other side of his father. He recalled the times when his father knelt down and prayed to Heavenly Father and they were often. His father had told him many times about prayer and how important it is. But Kelihah had prayed before, like his father, and nothing had really happened. At times he wondered why his father spoke of its importance. First he would learn to fight and to kill, and then he would think about prayer.

When he returned home his mother had food prepared. “Please sit down, Kelihah. Eat, son. You must be hungry.”

“Thank you, mother.” While Kelihah ate he thought about his father’s sword. When he’d lifted it before he had noticed how heavy it was. His father, with his massive arms, swung his sword around like a feather. But Kelihah was not as strong as his father and he knew the only way to gain the strength he needed was to practice with the sword. He would swing it above his head as many times as he could and then he would plunge it into the earth or a rotted tree until he was so tired he couldn’t do it any longer. The first challenge he faced, however, was getting his father’s sword away from their home without his mother knowing.

“How long will father be gone?” Kelihah asked his mother.

“I do not know, Kelihah,” his mother responded. “I believe it will take many days to find the Lamanites and defeat them.”

“Father has said I must help you while he is gone, mother,” Kelihah remembered his father’s counsel. “What would you have me do?”

After his mother had told him of several things needing done he began to regret remembering the counsel of his father, at least where women’s chores were concerned. But he could not deal with his father’s anger and would never disrespect him, so he began to do the things his mother asked of him. He worked as fast as he could, but the hot sun made him tired. One of the chores his mother assigned actually worked into an idea for getting his father’s sword out of their home. She had told him to take all of his father’s swords, for he had several, to be sharpened. A man in the village sharpened the swords for all the Nephite soldiers.

Kelihah was sure his mother did not know how many swords his father actually had and she would not miss one if he hid it in the woods. As darkness broached the day he was able to hide one of the swords under some brush and return the others. His mother simply thanked him and returned to her own work. Feeling successful in his deception, Kelihah immediately began to think of the next morning. He would arise early, like his father did, and go to the clearing in the woods to practice with his father’s sword.

Several days went by and Kelihah spent part of each day with his father’s sword. He felt his practice was paying off as he swung the sword above his head and in crisscrossing patterns in front of him in mock attack of the enemy Lamanites. His chest became brazen in puffed out confidence as he imagined killing a Lamanite just as he’d seen his father do. And the sword, in the beginning a heavy awkward object, now felt light in his hands and he controlled its movements with a poise he knew his father would respect.

Word came back to the village that the fighting continued and the battles were fierce. Both Nephites and Lamanites had died. There was word of other battles in other lands and Kelihah knew his father commanded just a small group of Nephite soldiers. The commander of all the Nephites was a man named Moroni. Keli spoke often to Kelihah of Moroni and had a tremendous respect for him. He had called Moroni a true man of God, a prophet. Kelihah did not truly understand what it meant to be a prophet even though his father had told him Moroni was highly favored in the eyes of Heavenly Father. He just knew if his father respected someone then he would show the same respect.

Six days after Keli and the soldiers had left the village Kelihah used his father’s sword as a deadly weapon. While he practiced he saw a small animal dart through the grass and into some thicket. He followed the animal and felt a surprising desire to kill it. His father had often killed animals for food. He would kill the small animal with his father’s sword for the same reason. Kelihah saw his mother thanking him for providing food for the table and, more importantly, his father would see him as a man. And the next time his father went out to fight, Kelihah was sure he would go to fight along side his father and all the brave Nephites.

But his mother’s reaction was not as he expected. She was angry with him for bringing the dead animal home. She told him his father had provided plenty of food for them and she questioned how he had killed the animal. Where did he get a weapon? Kelihah did not know what to say to his mother.

He finally walked away from her without saying anything. It wasn’t because his mother was upset with him, but he knew when his father came home and found out he’d upset his mother he would also feel disappointment in the young boy. He felt tears begin to well up in his eyes and he fought to control them because he did not want to show weakness. His father was the most important person in the world to Kelihah and he could not disappoint him.

Then, the next day, while Kelihah brooded over the reaction of his mother, the unthinkable happened and his heart, so intend on pleasing his father, stopped beating. At first excitement rose in the boy when he saw the Nephite soldiers approach the edge of the village. His excitement was replaced almost immediately with worry when he did not see his father leading the soldiers. He wondered if his father had been called to fight with some other soldiers in another battle. Maybe he was fighting beside the great leader, Moroni. He raced toward the men and welcomed them home, and to find out about his father.

A soldier near the front named Mosha pulled young Kelihah to the side and looked into his eyes. “Our battles with the Lamanites have been many,” he spoke to Kelihah. “With the help of our Lord we have been victorious in our battles, but people have died, both Lamanites and Nephites. Kelihah, you must go tell your mother that your father, Keli, was killed by a Lamanite warrior in our last battle. He was brave and gave his life for the gospel of the Lord.”

Kelihah could not believe the words of Mosha. His father could not be dead. He refused to accept the possibility even though his father had not returned. As a sudden defiance enveloped him he ran toward the woods and the clearing where his father’s sword lay hidden. If Mosha had actually told him the truth he would take the sword and kill the Lamanite responsible.

The sharp tip pierced the skin causing blood to pulsate profusely from a wound soon gaping by the twisting blade plunging deeper into Keli’s body. Life quickly ebbed from his body and Keli choked as he called on his Lord to save him. Fierce blood red eyes searched his own as the Lamanite thrust the dagger deeper into Keli’s body. As the blood began to rise in his throat and fill his mouth and words were no longer possible, thoughts took over, and the thoughts were of Kelihah. Please watch over Kelihah, Father, for I fear he will lose his focus after this, Keli silently prayed as life slipped from him.

Kelihah’s mother shook him from sleep. He thrashed about and she knew not why. His mother mopped the dampness from his forehead. “Are you ill, Kelihah?” She had never seen a person behave in such a way as they slept. “I am frightened. What has happened to you?”

“Mother, I have had a dream and it was terrible,” Kelihah spoke with a rush. “A Lamanite, mean and horrible looking, thrust a sword into father and blood gushed forth from father’s body like when father cut the throats of the sheep. Father fought against the Lamanites, but one took him by surprise. And father knew he was about to die so he prayed to Heavenly Father to spare him. It was in my dream, mother. But Heavenly Father was taking father and he knew it so then he prayed again and his final prayer was for me, his son, for he worried about my reaction to his death. I saw that Heavenly Father looked upon Father with great favor and my own heart has been touched.”

Time passed by and Kelihah grew into manhood. Fighting between the Nephites and Lamanites continued and Kelihah fought for the same cause his father had fought for. He fought alongside the great Moroni – he also came to know Moroni as a prophet of God. Yet he never sought out personal revenge against the Lamanite who had killed his father. His father had taught him the fight was to protect and defend the Lord’s gospel and the people who believed in it. Kelihah never strayed from the things his father taught him and lived the gospel as the Lord commanded him. Each day before the battles began Kelihah found solitude and in the quiet he prayed for Heavenly Father to guide him through that day – the true power of his father’s sword had always been prayer.