Alma the Prophet
Copyright © 1975 Duane R. Hurst
Ragged fingers of light slashed through a heavy overcast, their brilliance briefly revealing trunks and limbs of a dense forest. A crackling bolt of light exploded one stout oak and hurled a shower of splinters and charred branches into the returning gloom. A blasting boom immediately crashed in the sky. Massive trees and a solid earth quivered with the impact as the roar rumble-tumbled throughout the forest.
A howling wind dashed sheets of rain madly into a seldom-used trail and spattered mud on a pair of struggling steeds. Drenched and wild-eyed, the two horses left the trail and strove to gain the brooding, lichen-covered entrance of a squat cavern. The gale whipped flecks of foam from their gasping jaws. One, a sleek roan urged on by its frantic rider, bolted for the opening. The other, a lather-speckled black, suddenly reared and pranced fearfully in a half circle when a second lightning bolt seared through the downpour.
The black's rider gripped reins tighter with a gloved hand as he pressed his chest against the horse's neck. His free hand was thrust into a thick mane near the left ear, while his mouth cooed coaxing words, which brought the black down with its flanks quivering in the pelting rain.
“Come in quickly,” the roan's rider bellowed from inside the sheltering cave. “There's no need to dance around out there in this storm. I already know your horse is better than mine.”
“If I can get this...” The other's shouted reply was snatched by a rush of wind and whooshed away to a blackness beyond the road.
His mount again under control, the rider spurred up a short incline and entered the cave. Rain continued to beat on the path and flail black trees. Streamlets ran through low, bunched grass, over and around gnarled tree roots, and cascaded from rock, which jutted out over the cavern’s opening. Inside, dim gray walls withheld welcome and a cheerless cold emanated from a deep, unseen interior. Silent shapes within a twisting tunnel seemed to beat a rhythmic chill. A trickle of liquid oozed out of a crack and carefully drip-dropped into a dank pool somewhere behind a half-seen rock column. Both horses stamped melancholically -- ears were flat and tails drooped.
The taller of the two young men caught his friend's saddle and helped remove wet blanket, bridle and other trappings. He stacked them beside his own gear, which was close beside a ring of stones just inside the cave. Taking out a flint and short piece of steel, he paused and glared at a few dry twigs and a handful of leaves centered inside the ring.
“Alma, I think we might be better off out in the downpour than in here,” he declared as his shorter friend shook water from a blue cloak. “Look at the horses. They sense something ominous. I hope we can get a flame going.”
Several sparks smoldered and a wisp of dirty smoke preceded a bright, warming fire. Shadows nearest the fire retreated and the man relaxed as dull yellow and crimson streaks jumped erratically on the walls. He sat hunched beside the small blaze, feeding it with scraps of wood and torn cloth.
Alma glanced at the flame and then smiled at his bearded friend, Helam. "After what happened this morning to the fulfillment of my goal, I don't believe anything detrimental can occur. The whole affair went so smoothly that mere afternoon cloudburst won't bother me."
He turned a trifle to the right. Reddish tints cast from the fire spread over smooth, handsome features. He was a young man about 24 years of age, yet, a few boyish attributes lingered -- a close-cropped beard still had patches of fuzz and his blue eyes twinkled in excitement and with a touch of mischievousness. Sandy-blond hair fell to his neck in lazy locks.
Alma returned the blue riding cloak tightly round his broad shoulders, covering a sky-blue tunic and its embroidered border of gold thread. The faint gleam of a silver medallion sneaked through the clinging cloak. Also beneath the cloak a matching dagger and sword with wrought gold hilts and rubied pommels were strapped to his waist. Circlets of gold set off muscular arms and soft leather sandals, whose straps were studded with sapphires and onyx, cased his feet. He was a strong man, not much used to work but versed in martial arts.
Helam was two inches taller and powerfully built. He likewise carried a sword although it was not nearly so fine in workmanship. Hi s clothing also was a shade less rich. A flashy yellow cloak and an engraved black belt enhanced his green cap and tunic. Rain had splattered auburn dollops of mud along the bottom fringe of his tunic.
He looked at Alma with a slow smile creeping over a usually passive face. Events of the morning had extracted an exuberant spirit from him; he was content to extend more of his rare laughter.
"Yes," he chuckled, "I imagine you would feel that way. If I had been elevated so far, so fast, and so easily, I wouldn't worry about such a place as this either. I knew you would be given the position in King Noah's council. Your father has quite a bit of influence -- he's very wealthy and you're a direct descendant of Nephi. Of course some of your lesser friends will claim you got the appointment because the king needs quick cash and made an opening in his council so your family's money would find its way into his hungry coffers."
A flush flared in Alma's cheeks. He clipped off the tart remark, which rushed to his tongue, for he realized the truth in his companion's statement. He merely answered, "They may say whatever they wish! I don't believe the king would create an opening in such a special calling just to collect gold. Nor do I believe my father would be part of such a flagrant fraud. The priesthood is still an honorable and responsible calling."
"I don't accuse you or your family of such an action,” Helam said hastily. "And I'll gladly stand up for you. You know that!"
He paused a moment to look outside the cave at a growing light and commented, "The rain is abating. I don't care to stay here longer and the horses are restless. Let's go back to your father's home. Your wife is probably waiting anxiously for you to relate the news. You should know how upset a recent bride can be."
Alma clapped a hand on Helam's shoulder and smiled. “I agree wholeheartedly with you. I'm desirous to reach home as quickly as I can. This cave almost whispers a warning of sorts. I can't grasp the significance of it, but I feel that someday I'll return here under more direful conditions."
Helam grunted as he gathered their gear and said, "Well, don't waste more time on it. Another two days and you'll have to appear at the palace and then at the home of the High Priest. I'm happy for your good fortune, Alma."
Alma tossed his friend a grin. They finished with the horses and rode out into the spreading sunshine. But Alma nervously took a last look at the dark cave before gazing upward at a peaceful blue sky and distant gray thunderclouds. The transformation was awesome -- it had been so dark only moments ago. Ahead of him, Helam had urged his horse into a canter. The shining rays on beaded blades of vibrant grass and dripping twigs brought back a playful longing; Alma goaded his stallion into a gallop so as to catch and then pass his friend.
"Helam, I'll beat you and you'll owe me another cloak," he yelled in delight. His blue cloak streamed out behind, mocking his progress.
Alma and Helam emerged from the forest trail and paused atop a knoll to gaze across cultivated fields at a distant villa. The trail widened into a cart path which twisted through the vegetable and grain fields and shot through a large gate in the walled courtyards of Alma's spacious home. The two urged their horses into a trot as the afternoon sun sank into forests east of the great ocean -- the ocean over which father Lehi and his flock had sailed several hundred years earlier. Laborers shuffling homeward along the dusty path lowered their mattocks and waved as the horsemen swept past them. A swarm of flies scattered from an irrigation ditch, delicate wings glinting in the day's dying brightness.
A cluster of naked boys splashed from a pond and raced to greet Alma, giving gleeful yelps at his return. Alma and Helam halted outside the stone gateway and dismounted to allow the boys to take their horses. Helam tousled the nearest black-haired head and commanded the boy, "Make sure our horses get feed and a good rubdown, lad.”
The two friends walked toward the house, Alma's step had a noticeable spring to it as he moved to meet a small, well-dressed knot of approaching kinsmen. A lovely young woman broke loose from the others at sight of Alma's wide grin; she ran forward and embraced him with the intensity of a young bride's unabashed love. Alma laughingly returned her kisses before gently pulling her back so that he could gaze into her sparkling eyes.
"Adina," he spoke softly, "I am joyed to see thee again. I have news to tell thee."
He drew his wife to one side, keeping an arm around her waist, and spoke to the others who now crowded about him and offered heartfelt greetings. “I have news to tell you all. But I would rather that Helam be my voice in this matter." He looked askance of his tall friend, who smiled and stepped forward to share in the greetings and announce Alma's new position.
"Greetings Father Mordacai and Dame Zebada, peace be upon your house. And greetings to you, Sister Adina. I am pleased to inform you that this very morning the king consecrated Alma, through the High Priest Amulon, as a priest to sit in council upon matters concerning the kingdom and people throughout all the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom. He now treads in his illustrious father's path."
The gray-haired, stoop-shouldered father clutched a walking stick but his eyes burned with the intensity of a tenacious fighter as he stared at Alma. He placed a withered hand on his son's arm, saying, "Enough of such talk, Helam. I know my path better than any man ever will. It is much better for us to consider Alma's future. I am well pleased with the news, no matter that it was anticipated." He glanced at the others. "Come inside for refreshment. They need drink after their ride."
"Son," Alma's mother exclaimed, "You are wet from the rain. Change out of those clothes before you get sick. You too, Helam."
Mordacai chuckled. "Woman, remember that our son has a wife to worry over him now."
Adina blushed and tugged at Alma for him to go inside. The group stepped into a wide, stone-floored hall and chatted as they stood in a small, comfortable room that opened onto a verandah. Servants moved quickly and silently with trays of drink. After a few festive moments Mordacai motioned for Alma and Helam to join him, whereupon they followed the old man into a private study tucked away in a quiet corner of the villa. He had the two young men sit. His somber eyes rested on Alma as he leaned forward and placed a hand on an ancient wood table.
"Son, and you also friend Helam, we must consider the ramifications of your new position. The king well knows that I am too feeble to attend council any longer, yet he and his priests have no desire to remove my name from that body because of our family's heritage and wealth. They also fear our influence among the landed families and with the common laborers, particularly since I am opposed to his extravagant building projects and spoke against his putting down of the priests his father, Zeniff, consecrated. Therefore, Noah will attempt to sway you into his claque of sycophants and thus gain our reputation to further his own vain ambition. You must reflect upon the words of our forefathers and remember the great and marvelous things that God has done for us -- for his promised ones, for father Lehi and his obedient son Nephi, for the people Zeniff led back to reclaim these lands and for you, my eldest son.
"I know that I soon must pass the way of all flesh. See that you remember these words and do exercise diligent heed to the words of the prophets. Do not become negligent in your faith, as have many of this generation."
Alma bowed his head and softly answered, "Yes, father, I will remember and honor your words. I am not such a child as to forget our ancestors or what we owe to God. King Noah's flattering words will not cloud my judgment."
Mordacai's eyes scrutinized Helam as he admonished, Helam, I rely on you to assist my son during this new challenge. I know you to be sober, though you are young."
Helam glanced at Alma before replying, "I will do my utmost both to respect your wishes, sir, and to remain a true friend to your son."
"Good! Go prepare yourselves for the evening meal. No doubt mother has something special for you."
“Melek, deliver our condolences to Alma at his villa and see that you inform him that King Noah and the Council will attend Mordacai's funeral in the city. We must impress the people with our grief over his death, and placate young Alma so that he will support our views rather than the traditions of his dotard father. He already has begun to accept our ways and will do so even faster once I can get him to take another wife or concubine. We'll have to get a suit able one -- a woman adroit at arousing passion, yet completely conscious of her reliance on me." The speaker paused and spoke sharply, “Stop that insipid, lascivious drooling and deliver my missive to Alma!”
Amulon, the High Priest, dismissed his fellow councilman Melek, who scurried off as quickly as his obese, pimpled body allowed. Amulon was of medium height and build, had a long hawk-like nose, wide mouth with thin lips, narrow shoulders, and gray-streaked beard and hair. His most arresting feature, however, was a pair of malevolent, coal-black eyes devoid of compassion.
He wore the opulent robes, which King Noah prudently had authorized the priests to use after Amulon was named High Priest. The simple priestly garb worn during the time of King Zeniff's recent reign were as quickly discarded as were the more righteous priests. Noah rewarded his favorite confidants with dual roles in the priesthood and government, reserving the plumb position for his most cunning intriguer, Amulon. Under their rule the kingdom embarked on a grandiose construction program that included renovation of Nephi's temple with fine works of gold, silver, ziff, copper and bronze. A tax levy of 20 percent on all goods provided the funds not only for the construction of many elaborate buildings and Noah's palace, but a portion was set aside for the priests and their many wives and concubines. In addition, the king built two towers in the land, one near the temple and another on a hill north of Shilom, which had been a resort for Nephi's people in olden times.
Noah also had many vineyards planted, that he might further indulge in his passion for savory wines. As his years of rule progressed the new king, who had been designated king by his dying father, took several women to wife and many more to bed as royal concubines; he and Amulon's priests encouraged the people to follow their example, flattering the gullible with pleasing words and promises that God favored those who diligently upheld King Noah. Opponents received scorn, ridicule or a silent death, depending on their social position. Amulon remained Noah's chief proponent and personally arranged the handling of opposition elements. He maintained a growing number of informants and blackguards, as well as influenced military affairs -- quite apart from Noah's direct knowledge since the king ostensibly was commander-in-chief of the army.
Amulon developed stratagems whereby his various surrogates could manipulate popular opinion to indicate widespread support for Noah and his cronies. One ploy often utilized was to co-opt opponents by letting them share in the official largess, subtly implicating them in a nefarious web of illegal schemes until they were too deeply enmeshed to reveal the truth of their deeds to the public. Another method was to scrutinize an enemy's personal weaknesses and exploit them, such as providing illicit sex, gambling, ready cash, etc. Amulon also sought ways to attract mass support for his ambitious programs. He devised new holidays and special events as a means to provide him and other priests with a platform to speak flattering words to gathered crowds. Food and drink, paid for by the government, were distributed to all comers along with praises for the many good works performed by the working classes. He mollified people by assuring them that God would accept them into His kingdom based on their support for "good" projects and not on the silly traditions taught by old men that the Son of God would provide the path for salvation.
Amulon's projects proliferated as he became more entrenched in power and surer of the opposition's decreased ability to thwart him. He easily convinced Noah that it was the king's moral obligation to future generations and to the people that he take other wives and concubines. The convoluted reasoning encouraged others of means and prestige to follow suit, thereby giving sanction to an upsurge of carnality in the kingdom. Weekly teachings in their capacity as spiritual advisors to the people further eroded previous belief in the words of the prophets. The kingdom seethed with corruption. Amulon gloried in his accomplishments and quietly intrigued on a far-sighted plan ultimately to get him the kingship.
Amulon adjusted his priestly headdress and strode out of his plush quarters as his lips grimaced in anticipation of his morning session with Noah. He proceeded past a squad of temple guards who locked step and escorted him to the king's chamber. They followed well-made stone corridors, under V-shaped arches and through several lofty halls until they approached a group of expensively attired retainers and a troop of royal guards, who bowed or saluted to the High Priest and quickly ushered him inside.
Nestled in the midst of numerous pillows and the perfumed arms of three scantily clad women, Noah gestured toward low tables heaped with rich foods and invited the priest to join him for breakfast. Liveried serving girls offered fresh tidbits on silver platters and eunuchs wielded elaborate fans made from the feathers of parrots, pheasants and macaws. A beardless young man kept the king's wine goblet filled.
Amulon paused long enough for a cursory bow and remarked, "I have broken my fast already and have pressing matters for your ears only, majesty. Please send these underlings back to their quarters."
Noah pushed aside the grapes one woman attempted to drop in his mouth. He knew the volatile nature of his chief supporter and recognized an outburst was imminent unless he quickly heeded Amulon's veiled order. He sat up and motioned for all to withdraw. After they were alone Noah moved to a table away from the windows and curious ears. Amulon abruptly took a chair opposite the king, leaning forward and speaking softly.
"We are rid of our most vocal opponent, yet, it would appear unseemly if you did not take the lead in manifesting to the rabble your sorrow at Mordacai's death. I am making arrangements in your stead -- be sure you are sober on this occasion. Also, I require the services of Levana for a special task."
Noah's eyes narrowed, as he demanded, “What task? You know that she is one of my favorites."
"She will become concubine to Alma, thereby sealing him to our purposes."
The king's dull, black eyes popped wide open at the news and he sputtered, "Nay! This I will not tolerate! You reach too far this time, Amulon. If you desire a plaything for him, take Talia or Rebecca. Either one should satisfy him if he tires of his wife so soon."
"Neither one will do," Amulon said as he leaned back with a scowl on his face. "Levana suits our need. Adina is not yet 21 and Alma has refused to look at any other woman. I have prepared him an apartment in the palace so as to keep him away from home while the council meets and where Levana can be introduced as a maidservant.
"You need not worry. She will render Alma malleable and still be available to you. She can leave him once we are sure of his loyalty," Amulon added with a cryptic smile.
Noah frowned, heaved a long sigh from the depths of his ponderous belly, and slowly nodded in submission. "As you wish, but it can wait until after the funeral."
Amulon quickly agreed and shifted to another topic.
On the same day in a quiet orchard south of Alma's villa, Helam sat beside Alma while their horses grazed nearby. Alma fingered a blade of grass as he glanced skyward, and then measured his close friend with doleful eyes. Helam returned the inspection with genuine sympathy and affection.
"Tell me," Alma queried, "Do you think poorly of me that I did not come immediately after my father summoned me? I thought it was another illness and waited until the council adjourned before returning home. It is small comfort that his final words were for me, because I arrived too late to hear them myself. Even Adina turns her eyes away from me."
Helam considered the question. "No, Alma," he replied, "I understand your responsibility, and so did your father. He would forgive you. Give the others time to reflect and you'll see that they will think kindly of you, also. However," he continued with some sharpness, "You should remember the words of your father when he warned you of Noah's crowd. They are influencing your actions, especially of late. We rely on you to counter Amulon's expanding power."
Alma's brow wrinkled with irritation as he retorted, "I know what you expect. But many of their projects benefit the people and I can't oppose them without appearing to seek self-aggrandizement. I know what to do."
The angry young man stood up abruptly and looked away from his lifelong friend. But Helam came to stand beside Alma as he tried to calm the latter's ire, for he clearly remembered the words of Alma's father to him wherein Helam promised to watch after the son. Besides, ever since they were boys together Helam had been the cool head that cautioned his more mercurial friend.
"Please consider, Alma, events in our land since Noah and his priests took power. The Lamanites began to attack isolated farms and kill herdsmen and farmers on the borders as soon as Zeniff died, thinking the kingdom was weak."
"Yes," retorted Alma, "I am aware of recent history. Noah sent a number of guards to seal the border and prohibit a continuation of typical Lamanite perfidy, but those he sent were insufficient. The lighter armed enemy drove our troops back and looted the border region until our full army routed them. Now they dare not molest our people. What does this have to do with me?
"Neglect. Our soldiers boasted in their pride after the victory that one company of fifty could withstand thousands of Lamanites. They neglected to give thanks to God for His support, given because there still were men who remembered previous aid He gave when Zeniff led the armies against King Laman. Few remain in the army who fought in those earlier battles; the current troops adhere to Amulon's flattery and waste their strength gambling or chasing women. You know this to be true."
Alma reflected a moment, placing his right foot upon a tree stump while he fingered his short beard.
"I admit that the army outwardly appears stronger than it actually is. Neither do I condone the poor behavior of some officers keeping concubines on post."
He peered through overhanging boughs at a crisp blue sky and a scattering of distant cirrus clouds and he pondered over a name often heard in his boyhood. Zeniff.
A heavy ground fog swirled throughout thick stands of late spring forest and muffled the ubiquitous chirping of crickets. One solitary screech from a blue-winged parrotlet sounded in a thicket beyond an armed, though bleary-eyed Nephite sentry who immediately roused his three sleeping companions. They were on remote picket duty in a small glade far removed even from the sentinels who watched over the slumbering Nephite army. The army of several thousand men had embarked on an ambitious expedition to regain the lands of their inheritance -- the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom. Once again the screech sounded, however, it now came from behind a curtain of ferns only fifty paces south of the sentry. His companions stumbled in the dark as they struggled out of sleep and into armor.
Other birds now began to join in the morning cacophony while early reddish tints of the rising sun could be discerned dimly through the fog. A third raucous screech came from behind the ferns. The now-alert leader smiled and imitated the screech. He and his band stepped out from their sheltered position, striding swiftly to the ferns. A lean dark figure parted the fronds and called greetings to the approaching men.
"Zeniff," the leader questioned the lean man, "What have you learned? Did you find our lands? Tell us what you spied out; you've been away more days than we expected."
"Leave off, give him a chance to sit and have some grub before you pump him," a bearded hulk rasped.
"Sergeant, can't we head back to camp now that Zeniff's here?" another soldier asked.
"Not yet. I'd like to get a few questions answered first. That is, if you don't mind, sir."
Zeniff clasped the sergeant's arm as he replied, "There's no need to sir me, Chemish. I want to answer your questions, too. I should report to our commander Muloki first. However, Gid," he said with a wink to the hulkish man, "I don't think I can go any farther without some food. Get a fire going and I'll give you a sketch of the country."
The men hurried back to the shelter, began a small smokeless fire, and sat down to eat a quick breakfast while Zeniff shared results of his recent reconnaissance into Lamanite territory. Zeniff had a naturally exuberant character that gained him many stalwart friends, particularly as he was prone to look for admirable qualities in people rather than seek their faults. He was a few inches taller than most men, kept his head shaved after the custom of the Lamanites, and was so tanned from life outdoors that he looked like a Lamanite. Even so, he was well educated in the language of the Nephites. Muloki had selected him for a dangerous mission to spy out the land because Zeniff was one of the few Nephites who was familiar with the southern lands, which once had belonged to their ancestors. Thus, the man readily accepted a chance to roam in the area he loved more than the land of Zarahemla.
The current expedition was an attempt by the Nephites to capitalize on recent victories against the Lamanite armies they had driven from Zarahemla during the reign of king Benjamin. The Nephites themselves had fled northward from Lehi-Nephi and Shilom many years earlier when king Mosiah, Benjamin's father, heeded God's warning. Those who chose to follow Mosiah were directed to a choice land, Zarahemla, which was peopled by descendants of Mulek -- the only surviving son of king Zedekiah of Jerusalem, who crossed the great eastern ocean in a ship which some said belonged to a group of "sea people" in Zedekiah's employ. The two peoples united under the elected rule of king Mosiah (king Zarahemla of the Mulekites voluntarily abdicated) and prospered in an exceedingly grand manner. The Nephites taught the people of Zarahemla their language and how to keep written records; the Mulekites had not taken any records with them, which led to a corruption of their original language. King Mosiah also taught them about the True and Living God so as to lift them above the worship of dumb idols. Their combined strength later served well in repulsing the Lamanites from Zarahemla. Amaleki, son of Abinadom, chronicled these events in the Plates of Nephi during the reign of king Mosiah.
Also mentioned in the Plates was an account of a large stone covered with strange writing that was given to Mosiah. Through the gift and power of God he interpreted the engravings and learned that they spoke of a man named Coriantumr, who lived nine months with the early Mulekites before he died. The man was the last of another people who inhabited the land northward and who had been directed of the Lord to leave the old world at the time God confounded the language of those who presumed to build a tower to reach heaven. Whereas this stone generated interest in some to explore the once-inhabited northern lands, Zeniff sought to entice others to reestablish themselves in the land south. He therefore used this opportunity to stir up a desire in others to acquire the land through peaceful means.
"It's a beautiful, rich land," Zeniff declared as his eyes sparkled in the firelight. "Many of the Lamanites are against the war with us and only want to live in peace. They are more loyal to their wives and extended families than are many Nephites. And they hold to a vow. I am sure we can gain a portion of our lands from the chief king without bloodshed if we are willing to see the good in these people. I believe we can overcome the false traditions of their fathers by living among them."
Gid merely grunted and passed Zeniff several strips of half-cooked meat. Chemish scratched the left side of his bulbous nose as he gazed distractedly into the lifting fog. "Seems impossible to me," he commented. "If what you claim could be, then why is the army marching south to scatter their forces and take the land?"
"Because Chief Captain Muloki wants to avenge his brother's death and gain glory for himself," added a doughty, mustachioed fellow. "He's a bloodthirsty and stiff-necked old crust. Always lording over us and boasting how he'll kill King Laman."
"Enough of that, Neum," the sergeant ordered. "You best watch your quick tongue, especially when you're back in camp where other ears are open for such talk."
Zeniff chuckled as he arose. "Come, it's time I got to camp. Don't mind Neum's chatter. Verily, what he says of contentious Muloki is true enough. An overly-austere leader causes a campaign to go awry just as often as a careless one does."
The soldiers quietly obscured any sign of their camp and quickly marched north in the growing light to the main army's sprawling camp. Sentries passed them into the camp. Zeniff had the squad accompany him to a central group of larger tents that quartered the captains of hundreds and of thousands. A uniformed group that was assembled for an early conference greeted him warmly; the group insisted that he relate his news before reporting to Muloki.
As the officers listened to Zeniff, many of them gained a greater respect for the man's keen talent for observation. Some of them became convinced that they indeed could regain their old lands through peaceful means. However, a messenger from the commander arrived with orders for all to attend the morning conference.
Inside a cluttered tent, Muloki scowled at his officers as they began seating themselves for what they knew would be a contentious meeting. The Chief Captain was known for his arrogance and stern disapproval of advice that was not in agreement with his own ideas. He was middle-aged, slightly paunchy, had thick brown hair and a long scar on the right arm. He scowled for quiet and directed stern eyes at Zeniff.
"Captain Zeniff, report on your mission," he ordered.
Zeniff strode forward and saluted before replying. "Sir, I indeed have been throughout the land of our first inheritance and spied out the Lamanite forces as you directed. The city of Nephi is in disrepair as are other former places of habitation, since the Lamanites prefer to live in tents. As we know already, they are a lazy and idolatrous people. Nevertheless, they are steadfast in keeping oaths with their friends and are faithful to their wives and families. I believe it extremely possible for us to gain a portion of the land from their chief king."
"Is this your report?" Muloki hissed. "What of their armies? Which route can best lead us to a decisive victory over them? I sent you to learn where their troops are located so that we might inflict the greatest slaughter before taking our rightful inheritance from them!”
“That I have noted also, sir. However, I must point out that we may gain the land without bloodshed, through a treaty with the Lamanites. I have been among them and observed much good. Only the false traditions of their fathers keep us from living in peace. Why not, then, seek a way to acquire the land without shedding unnecessary blood?"
Muloki leapt to his feet in a rage. "Silence!" he ordered. "Have you become a Lamanite? This army does as I command. We do not seek peace with our enemies!" Then, pointing to Zeniff, he shouted for his guards. "Bind Zeniff and take him before the army that all may see the end of traitors.
"I have suspected these many days that you are rebellious and scornful of my authority. Now I see that you also are an enemy to your people. The penalty is death!"
An immediate cry against the chief captain arose as Zeniff's friends came forward to prevent the guards. A large, bearded man shouted the others down as he stood between Zeniff and Muloki. He was Aaron, second captain of the army and known for his contempt of Muloki.
He grasped his sword hilt and barked, "You have no right to execute a fellow officer unjustly! Zeniff is a true man, moreover, I agree with him. Why should we lose men needlessly in battle when the land can be had in peace? We know your stiff-necked, bloodthirsty nature. Too long have we groaned under the yoke of your arbitrary ways."
He suddenly unsheathed the sword and leveled its point at Muloki's chest. Other swords sprang out in support of Zeniff, causing the surprised guards to cluster around the chief captain. Various other captains sided with Muloki but stayed their hands. Those friends of Zeniff and enemies of the arrogant chief withdrew from the tent, being closely followed by their wary opponents. Each captain shouted for or scurried after his troops. Soon battle horns rang amid the clank of armor, a swirl of colored banners rose above ragged formations, and gruff commands urged startled soldiers into opposing lines. In some cases, brother faced brother and son confronted father.
Muloki and his faithful officers denounced Zeniff's supposed treason, whereas, Aaron and others repudiated the chief captain's right to leadership. Soldiers on both sides slipped across to join whichever force they preferred to follow. Many swore in their wrath that they would die in the field rather than see their enemies triumph. Muloki particularly took a hardhearted stance against reconciliation; he commanded his forces to attack the rebels.
Muloki, being a strong man like unto the mighty warriors of ancient days, personally led a wedge of heavily armored men into the front rank of Aaron's men. His attack surged ahead of shouting followers. A grisly carnage commenced; bright swords hacked limbs, severed joints, clashed against stout shields, and disemboweled in a rhythmic frenzy. Slings cracked rocks against helm and chest. Frantic arms thrust spear points into exposed thighs. Fierce grappling even found the wounded gnashing their enemies. Men cursed God and died in their gore.
Aaron fell. A melee crescendoed over his torn corpse. Muloki savaged and slew his way toward Zeniff before he became tangled in the thrashing legs of a soldier he cut down. One of Zeniff's men bashed the chief captain's jaw with a stone club and slashed his throat. Thus ended the days of the mighty Muloki. Still the battle heaped dead upon a briar-encrusted and blood-drenched field.
Zeniff led the assault that obliterated the final few opposing soldiers. A mere fifty men survived the carnage. They scattered among the dead, seeking forlornly after friends or family. Zeniff stood upon a knoll amidst the putrid stench and slowly surveyed the remains of a once-ambitious Nephite army -- dead husks to manure an uncaring and insignificant forest clearing. He dropped his sword, knelt in the bloodstained grass, and gazed heavenward into a crisp blue sky. Lilting calls from distant birds floated with a faint breeze. The man wept.
"Oh, God, how vain is the way of man! Look upon our folly and weep. Is this to be the inheritance of the children of Lehi? That which has been spoken of by the prophets unless we bestir ourselves to a genuine repentance and faith in the Son of Man? Such a bitter sight is more than I can endure!
"Grant that I may learn wisdom from this and impart it to my people, that we do accept thy guidance and become obedient like unto Nephi. Receive the sad souls of these who have fallen in fierce enmity, and stay thy anger from we who remain to witness our deeds. Let us become better instruments in thy hand. Yea, aid us as we now must relate this destruction to the wives in Zarahemla who await word of their husbands."
Zeniff rose and beckoned to his men. All joined him in grief and added their prayers to his; then, they wearily prepared for the desultory return home.
Despite the calamitous end of the first expedition, Zeniff continued to encourage Nephite leaders to make another attempt in regaining their lands. A large number of willing settlers likewise petitioned the government until it agreed that they could go south with Zeniff. Many feared the Lamanites would slaughter the intrepid families, yet, others felt that such a group had more chance of success than another army. After several months of hasty preparation and final heart-rending farewells, the hopeful group -- together with flocks and herds of animals and carts full of possessions -- traveled along the same path previously taken by the ill-fated army.
The people wandered many days in the southern wilderness, suffering famine and other afflictions because they forgot to call upon God. A humbled Zeniff urged all to repent that they might be lifted out of their pitiable condition. Their pleas were heeded; hunters found game and Zeniff discovered a path to king Laman's principle city. He and four men followed the path in hopes of seeing the Lamanite king and securing land by treaty. The same group traveled unobserved through the dense forest and remained concealed until they saw Laman and his guards outside the city. Then Zeniff stood forth alone to greet the king.
King Laman still appeared robust and muscular in his middle years. Heavy black eyebrows jutted above deep-set, darting eyes; a large nose matched his thin, wide lips and granite jaw. With a chopping motion he ordered back the guards who immediately had begun to lunge for Zeniff.
"Who are you that boldly stands in the king's way?" he demanded.
Zeniff. My brethren and I have journeyed these many days that we might plead our cause and perhaps find favor in your eyes. Grant us, I pray thee, audience and place to rest our weary feet."
"Call forth your brethren that I may see them. Verily, I grant you hearth and home so long as you enter in peace.”
Relieved to hear the king's promise of safety, Zeniff signaled for the others to come into the clearing. The Lamanites were astounded to see Nephites so deep in their lands, for they had supposed that Zeniff was a Lamanite like unto them. Nevertheless, they durst not bind them because of the king's word. Even Laman's devious eyes popped wide open as he stepped backward in surprise.
"What is this?" he sputtered. "What manner of trick do you think to play?"
The Nephites quickly bowed before Laman as Zeniff sought to placate the king.
"In truth, King Laman, we have come in peace to secure a treaty between our people. Let us, therefore, speak together and put aside old enmities. Let us end the days of hatred and battle."
Laman's eyes narrowed and he pulled at his chin, concealing a subtle smile. He nodded slowly, and then motioned for all to follow his guards. No one noticed the glint in his eyes.
Arrival of the Nephites created a flurry of consternation in the Lamanite city. Armed warriors shouldered through the chattering crowd and kicked dogs aside. Children craned for a better look at the bearded "enemy." But none hindered the procession as it moved past tents to the king's pavilion. Zeniff and his men were directed to guest quarters, where they could prepare for a formal audience and feast with Laman and his chief advisors.
Several hours after entering the city, Laman held a special audience to hear Zeniff's proposal. A large group of Lamanite leaders sat facing the five Nephites. Many grumbled their contempt for and distrust of the unwelcome guests.
The king gestured for all to listen and said, "We bid welcome to Zeniff and these, his brethren. Tell us of the treaty whereof you spoke earlier, that all my chief captains and advisors might judge its merit and so advise their king in this matter. For verily, it is no light event to talk of peace with our sworn enemies."
"I thank you, great king," Zeniff began. "My people, being desirous of peace between us and you, our brethren, and wanting to see the first land of our fathers, have urged me to seek this audience. We do not believe the words of some of our brethren in the north concerning you; rather, we have observed much good in your people. Therefore, we have journeyed forth to request lands where we can raise grain and feed our flocks. Oh king, we seek trade and friendship. We do not come as an army bent on conquest; we come as families searching for a homeland. For this reason alone we seek a treaty of peace between our peoples.
"Yes, you advisors to the king, we remember and lament the many wars of the past. This hatred ought not to be. Let us pledge peace and grant that our children may grow strong together."
A stout, grizzled warrior spat, "Don't listen to this son of a liar! His fathers cheated our fathers out of their inheritance and sought to rule over us. I say we should find and kill his people rather than give them place among us."
Others shouted approval. No one favored Zeniff's proposed peace or his request for land. However, Laman silenced dissent. He already had decided to grant the land, so that he later might collect tribute from the Nephites.
"What lands do your people desire of us?" he asked.
"Those settled by Nephi -- the cities of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom," Zeniff responded.
"What of our people in those lands?" a broad fellow demanded. Other captains voiced anger with the proposal.
"Silence and hear the decision of your king!" Laman shouted. "I find favor with Zeniff and his people. I give to them both the cities and the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom. They shall be theirs for an inheritance, and all others living there must move out within the month. Moreover, I pledge a peace between our peoples. This is my right as king and so it shall be. Voice it among all our people.
“Zeniff, I grant that you may be king over your people. Now, refresh yourselves and prepare for the evening feast while I consider other important matters."
"I don't know how to express our thanks; my people rejoice in your generosity," Zeniff stated as he and his exuberant men stood. They left the pavilion, expressing joy in the unexpected good fortune. However, they never heard Laman's plan to subjugate Zeniff's people -- a plan that his followers welcomed.
King Laman indeed feted Zeniff's men well that evening, and his leading advisors appeared conciliatory. Much wild game was served amidst boisterous singing and fire-lit dancing. The men slept well and departed in the morning with several Lamanite guides for the sequestered Nephite families.
During the next twelve years they rebuilt the dilapidated former Nephite cities and repaired the walls round about them. They sowed seeds of barley, corn, wheat, gneiss and sheum. Flocks multiplied. Nephite families increased in size as they produced more crops and goods; technology developed as others began to work metals and perfect principles of construction. Nevertheless, they continued to call upon God in thanksgiving and faith. Confidence remained high throughout these early years as the people undertook major renovations. Fears of the Lamanites diminished, particularly among those in the cities. Zeniff prospered as king. He consecrated priests to teach his subjects about God and His commandments.
In the thirteenth year of King Zeniff's reign, however, King Laman began to stir up the Lamanites to war against the Nephites. He and his councilors feared the growing numbers of their brethren and coveted their many goods. It was an easy matter to generate war hysteria amongst the pliant Lamanite men. Warriors eagerly took to their arms and swore oaths to avenge supposed injustices against their forefathers. It was time to spring the trap Laman had laid years before during an all-night festival of newborn cooperation. Many of his chief captains and advisors still lived and remembered the purpose behind the treaty of friendship and trade. Now the Nephites were to learn the true price of living among a still-angry foe.
The land seemed all at peace as Nephite farmers watered and fed their flocks or tilled their fields. Winds puffed a promise of fair weather rather than of impending war. On a pleasant morning in the southern borders of Shilom a young couple walked hand in hand through lush grass near a field of ripe corn. The woman carried a lunch basket; the man shouldered a muddy hoe. Both moved toward a cluster of trees far from a group of older farmers, who likewise were resting from work for a brief meal. Of course the others noted the couple's departure. Their recent engagement was the latest gossip in the village.
The woman had just turned 18 and was the youngest daughter of Jarom, a local farmer. Her black hair partly peeked from under a kerchief; several long strands tickled a prominent nose and rather plain, honest face. She smiled and asked, "Daniel, can we sit in the shade of the big tree?”
"No, it's better to eat nearer the others so they don't think we are trying to hide," he answered with a surprised look. "Nizana, you never wanted to sit there before. What makes today different?"
"Our engagement. Besides, you know that my father and brothers can see us anyway. Come, we only have a few minutes for lunch.” She tugged gently and he followed her after taking a quick look across the field at her father.
"Yes, but we should be careful, nevertheless.”
His coarse hands and dark face came from years of farm work, though he was only two years older than Nizana. A mat of sweaty, brown hair hung to his shoulders. He let out a weary sigh as they walked through the grass and up a slight incline to the tree. The cool shade refreshed him. Daniel again looked for Nizana's father, and saw that he was seated with other farmers near the cornfield. A cart half-filled with harvested corn was parked to their left.
"Since we only have a few minutes, as you say, woman, give me that food before I die of hunger! There's plenty of time for talk later," he stated with a laugh.
"Oh, what a romantic fellow I love," she taunted. "Sit down and try the bread I baked today."
Daniel tore off a chunk and ate greedily. He slipped an arm around Nizana and drew her close. Both ignored their surroundings as they began discussing a future of shared hopes. Neither they nor the other Nephites were aware of an approaching Lamanite war party coming out of the south forest. Lamanite soldiers screeched as they rushed from cover and began slaughtering the astonished farmers.
Daniel and Nizana stared open-eyed from behind sheltering leaves at the grisly scene. Already her brother sprawled dead beside a dying friend. She cried out when a Lamanite knocked aside her father's hoe and slashed open his broad chest. Two warriors looked towards their tree without seeing them. Fearing an immediate attack and wanting to get his love to safety, Daniel yanked Nizana to her feet and forced her to run north into the woods. He realized an urgency to warn their village of the Lamanite forces before more people died. Her sobs continued as they dodged trees and dashed through occasional streams.
The Lamanites did not see the two leave. Soldiers paused to loot the dead and divide their force. The majority continued northward towards the distant Nephite village while the remaining troops harvested the corn and removed it to their own lands, as King Laman had ordered. Other bands of Lamanites were raiding Nephite farms to the east and west; distant curls of smoke attested to their success.
"Quickly, Nizana, we must warn the village before the Lamanites murder all our families and friends. We will mourn your father and brother later," Daniel promised as he urged the woman along a dusty path. They were approaching a cluster of homes near the village. Dogs barked at their sudden presence. Four children stopped playing and ran up to greet the tired couple. Nizana gripped the nearest boy's arm and yelled, "Lamanites! Lamanites are killing us in the corn fields!"
The two cried out warnings until women and old people came outside to see what caused the racket. An old man confronted Daniel and demanded, "What's all this about Lamanites?"
"They have murdered our people in the fields at Sidom Stream and even now are coming here!" he answered. "We must warn everyone and escape. Look," he pointed off to the south, "farms are burning beyond the forest of Omner, also."
The old man and others looked to where Daniel pointed. Gasps of fear and consternation exploded, but the man quieted the gathering as he immediately took command. Years before he had been one of the soldiers who had survived the carnage in the wilderness. He was the sergeant, Chemish.
"Wife," he ordered a robust woman, "Take charge! Get everyone moving to Shilom and don't let them take any possessions. We don't have time to waste. Daniel, come with me. I have weapons in the house." The two men rushed inside while women hurried children along the road. Minutes later Chemish emerged in battle armor, Daniel hefted a spear, and they soon caught up with the small band. Chemish directed them to follow an overgrown path leading to the city of Shilom as he took up a rear guard position. More families joined them from the village; A few men armed with farm tools provided security under Chemish's guidance.
Within the hour they were pushing through a dense forest, urged on by the sight of black smoke curling over trees from the direction of their village. A woodcutter and two farmers joined them in their stumbling flight. One farmer bled from a slight arm wound and related details of a similar Lamanite raid on his land. However, Chemish's people did not encounter any Lamanites. They passed Shilom in the late afternoon, but continued north to the city of Nephi in company with numerous other refugees from the south. Zeniff, upon learning of Laman's attack, had ordered all his people to Nephi in order to combat the large host of Lamanite warriors.
Inside the palace Zeniff conferred with trusted advisors. Chemish was included particularly for his previous military experience and friendship with the king. He advocated a vigorous thrust against the Lamanite army, which had camped in broad fields outside the walls of Shilom. Other leaders supported the plan. Zeniff instructed that bows and arrows, swords, scimitars, slings, clubs and all manner of weapons be issued to every able-bodied man. Zeniff then directed his captains to assemble their forces in the courtyard near Nephi's temple that they might cry unto God for deliverance from their enemies, for they now remembered His hand in protecting their forefathers. Men and youths had taken whatever arms they could get and either were present or already had mustered outside the city to seek the approaching Lamanite host. A large multitude of women and children gathered about the soldiers, adding their prayers in behalf of husbands, sons and fathers. Many cried openly, some clung together as if it were their last embrace, and others pressed food and water upon their men.
Eventually Zeniff stepped out of the temple, where he and the priests had been praying to God for the people's welfare. He stood upon a dais with arms outstretched and signaled the crowd to silence. In a loud voice, which carried throughout the wide courtyard, he spoke to them.
"My brethren, all you who come in defense of your families and lands, yea, and also you women, children and aged whom I see before me, truly this is a sad and fearful day. The Lamanites are upon us. They number as the sands on the seashore, yet, we must exercise trust in our God; yea, even cry mightily that He will strengthen our arms in battle and preserve us from our enemies.
“Now is the time for us to repent of our past errors, lest we be completely destroyed. It has come to pass even as the holy prophets have warned, that in the day of our unbelief we shall be vexed into a remembrance of God. Therefore, let us bow down before Him in acknowledgment of His infinite power and goodness. Behold; let us be comforted in His desire to encircle us about in the arms of His love.
"Yea, my beloved people, lift up your hearts and rejoice, for we are not utterly cast off. I exhort you to have faith in the plan of salvation and put your trust in God. I say unto you that this very day we shall go forth in triumph against King Laman, scattering his armies. Again, I entreat you to raise your voices in faith and fight with unwavering trust.”
A brief silence followed Zeniff's words, but was swept away by a roar of approval and determination from the assemblage. Men lifted up their weapons as a show of support; women trilled encouragement to their men. Zeniff descended the dais and led his troops in a quick-march down the road that linked Lehi-Nephi to Shilom. His army felt strengthened and buoyed up in the knowledge that they fought for a just cause -- for the preservation of their families, liberty and religion. Additional Nephites from hamlet and farm joined the column as it continued south toward the Lamanite host. Daniel, equipped with armor and sword, marched behind Chemish. The old man had command of a contingent that was to form part of the Nephites' center.
Zeniff immediately deployed his men along the crest of a hill north of Shilom, which commanded the way leading to Lehi-Nephi. His experienced officers carefully instructed the raw troops on how to receive blows, when to strike and not to panic. All could see numerous columns of smoke rising from fields and villages to the south. A few stragglers hurried along the road to reach safety among the waiting Nephites. Even now skin-clad Lamanite warriors emerged from the woods on either side of the road. Their captains halted the Lamanite mass beyond range of Nephite arrows.
"So many of them," thought Chemish, "They'll make a frontal assault, hoping to crush us by weight of numbers."
Chemish pulled at his beard in thought as he gazed at an arm of the forest west of their hill. An idea struck his mind and he strode off in search of Zeniff.
Below the hill Lamanite forces continued to gather. King Laman and his chief captains stood on a small knoll and observed the line of armored Nephite soldiers. Midday's light gleamed off distant weapons and burnished head plates.
"Their force is small, although I see more men than my spies had reported Zeniff to have," Laman stated. "And there is much armor. Many of our men will die this day."
Tubaloth, a middle-aged warrior and Laman's chief captain, pointed to the hill. "We need not attack them up this slope. Verily, our force is sufficient to encircle and crush them. I can send Lemuel's men east of the hill to flank Zeniff and have Lehonti's force hold the forest to the west. When all are in position, I will order the attack and lead our soldiers against the hill after the other captains hit their flanks."
Laman glanced at Tubaloth and then shifted his attention to the Nephites. He frowned with indecision, desiring a quick victory but reluctant to lose so many soldiers needlessly. Before he could utter the command, which would preclude further tactical considerations, Lehonti spoke up in a booming, boastful voice.
"Oh king, we must strike now while our men are eager. Their force is too small to resist us. Let me lead the attack if Tubaloth fears the Nephite arms. My men thirst for this honor. Strike now!"
"No man calls me a coward and lives!" swore Tubaloth in rage. He lifted a club to smash Lehonti's skull, but Laman ordered both of his captains to silence. They lowered their weapons sullenly.
"Save your strength and anger for the enemy!" Laman shouted. "Lehonti has spoken well. Our men are anxious to attack. However, it is my chief captain's right to lead in battle. Therefore, it is my desire that Tubaloth command the center and destroy the Nephite army. Lehonti will command the left wing and lead his force up the slopes nearest the forest.
"Behold, the enemy is in confusion even before the fight commences.” The king stretched out his hand and pointed to the Nephites. A sizable force from their center marched away to the rear and only a smaller contingent of troops took their place in line -- and they were without shields or heavy armor.
Lehonti's eyes shone with exuberance as he cried, "Now! They are disorganized already."
Laman smiled grimly and he shouted to his captains, "Assault the heights! Win for me a great victory!" A roar of approval rippled along the ranks of the waiting Lamanite warriors. Men sprang forward and raced for the hill.
Upon the heights Chemish found Zeniff conferring with his captains. They beckoned for Chemish to speak -- for he was noted as one of their most skilled fighters. He wiped sweat from his forehead.
"We are sorely outnumbered. This position appears strong but the Lamanites can flank us and cut us off," he observed.
The other leaders muttered agreement. Zeniff nodded his head and queried, "What plan have you devised?"
"I believe we should hide our best archers in the woods to our right, where they can wait until the enemy begins its attack. Then they will strike suddenly, picking off leaders and causing panic. Another group of heavily armored men hidden with the archers can attack the Lamanites. From the hilltop we will place slingers and our second-rate archers, where they will have the advantage of shooting downhill. The majority of our footmen should remain there, also.
"Be sure to instruct every man not to race down once the enemy begins to retreat; they can turn upon us and finish our small force. We will know when it is best to press a counterattack."
A murmur of approval greeted his proposal. "I agree with your plan and I believe the others do, too. Have you any other instructions?" Zeniff asked.
Chemish shook his head, "Only that I wish to lead those chosen to fight in the forest.”
"Granted. I have confidence that you will be instrumental in our success. Let us also encourage our men to cry unto the Lord for His strength and protection."
Each captain returned to his command. Chemish selected his archers and other fighters. He pointedly refused to let Daniel join those chosen for the more dangerous forest duty. When a troop of slingers arrived, Chemish marched his force off at the double-quick. It was this action that spurred the Lamanites into launching a frontal attack rather than listen to the more cautious advice of Tubaloth.
"Advance!" Lehonti shouted to his men. He led them in a rapid assault up the wooded slopes against the Nephite right wing, however, in his eagerness to be first, Lehonti refused to wait for Tubaloth's signal. As a result of his rash action, other Lamanite captains ordered their troops into battle. Lemuel urged the right wing up the hill only a few moments after seeing Lehonti's men move. Tubaloth was furious with Lehonti's insubordination and attempted to keep order among his force, but the soldiers were too excited for his captains to restrain them. The whole line lurched forward. Instead of a coordinated general attack, disjointed masses of troops made piecemeal assaults up the grassy hill.
Hidden among the thick trees were the seasoned troops under Chemish. His experienced eye noticed the lack of control in the Lamanite army. He signaled for an aide, who carefully crept through the underbrush.
"Emron," Chemish commanded, "Hurry back to Zeniff. Tell him the army must not counterattack on this first assault! Wait until the Lamanites are weary before pressing them. Go quickly, lad."
Emron saluted and rushed off. Chemish glanced at the oncoming Lamanites and gave the signal for archers to notch arrows. Men immediately obeyed him. The heavily armored foot soldiers crouched behind undergrowth or tree trunks. Near Chemish was his old friend, Gid.
"Looks like a hot one today, eh?" Gid grinned. "Haven't had us a fight since Muloki wanted Zeniff's head. Good thing you kept all us old soldiers here. I'd say the Lamanite chief over there is having trouble with his other captains or just don't know what he's doing."
Chemish pointed toward Lehonti, "He's too zealous. His force could have flanked our line by taking time to sweep these woods, but he's rushing up the slope because it looks easier. If the archers on the hill fire just before us as I told them, we can shatter the attack. Even the slingers in our center can help us because the enemy isn't coordinating their charges."
"Humph," Gid grunted. "Going to take more than one sting to route them. I never saw so many Lamanites.”
"Ready now," Chemish said as he made a hand signal to the archers. Bows bent. Foot soldiers unsheathed swords or hefted spears.
“Fire!” Zeniff ordered. A cloud of arrows and stones swept the front rank of Lehonti’s men. Numerous smooth stones cracked naked heads and exposed limbs, while arrows buried deep into brown thighs and skin-covered chests. Showers of the missiles continued to fall as the Lamanites faltered.
The slingers stepped forward from their position, hoping to throw as many rocks as possible before they would be called upon to assist fellow troops on the Nephite left wing. The disjointed Lamanite attack was helping the small army.
Just as the Lamanites faltered, a new rain of arrows swept over them from the woods. It was even more accurate and destructive than what those on the hill were sending. Lehonti’s men panicked and began running for safety. They fled back to the tree line with Lehonti cursing them for cowardice.
The shattered Lamanite left wing allowed Zeniff’s slingers and archers to concentrate on the approaching force under Lemuel; Tubaloth’s men struggled up the hill but were slowed both by a steeper incline and slippery grass. Lemuel’s men had the easiest ascent, but the slope contained many small chuck-holes and ravines hidden beneath a thick cover of grass and briars. Running men tripped and sprawled, turning the attack into chaos as men coming from behind entangled themselves with those who had fallen. Nephite stones and arrows fell thick among the Lamanites. The most stalwart struggled upward beyond their companions, only to be driven back from the crest by strong-armed Nephite veterans, who had been posted on the weaker-positioned left. Lemuel, like Lehonti, saw his men run from the field.
The Lamanite center came within range of Zeniff’s archers; however, few arrows or stones rained down from the heights. Lamanite minor captains shouted encouragement to their troops, thinking that the Nephites had expended their missiles in the earliest assaults. Men leaped upward through the thick grass.
"A few more paces," Zeniff told two of his captains. One man looked worried and stated, "I fear we hold our men in check too long."
"No," Zeniff retorted. "The Lamanites believe we are short of arrows because I allowed a mere handful of our men to fire upon them. See, even now the enemy advances recklessly."
Lamanites indeed were rushing toward the crest with little regard for the few Nephite shafts and stones. Many held shields to parry anticipated sword or ax strokes, rather than block flying missiles; some openly taunted the Nephite line with exposed chests.
"Shoot!" Zeniff bellowed, as the Lamanites were fifty paces from his men. A cloud of arrows and rocks decimated the front ranks. None of Tubaloth's warriors reached the waiting Nephites. They stumbled and ran down the steep slope in a frantic mob. Only a strenuous effort by the Nephite captains and veterans kept the greener troops from pursuing the broken Lamanite force. Chemish's bowmen fired into the fleeing Lamanites, further demoralizing them.
Chemish lifted his sword and led his heavily armored men as if in pursuit of the foe. However, as soon as they reached the fallen Lamanite soldiers nearest to their line, they halted and formed ranks. One in every three soldiers was detailed to kill wounded Lamanites who lie in the trampled grass. Meanwhile, his archers quickly gathered usable arrows, pulling them either from the ground or Lamanite bodies. These actions infuriated Lehonti and his men. The Lamanite captain howled in rage and rallied his disorganized command for a new assault.
Chemish called to a young infantry commander, "Sherem, lead your men back to the woods. Hold our right flank and be prepared for an attack at the gully. Manti's bowmen will help you."
"We'll hold," Sherem replied grimly.
"You better or our force will be routed. Quickly now, the Lamanite host is coming again!"
"Cowardly scum!" Lehonti screeched at his men. "Fools! What use is it to run from arrows and rocks? Now you'll have to go through the same thing again! Look! The Nephites are hacking our wounded. But they foolishly bring out only a small force. Arise from the dust and be men. Show your bravery. Attack!"
Soldiers lifted their weapons high, shaking them at the distant Nephites. Shouts and the thumping of spears against shields roared in the afternoon air and shook the earth. Lehonti's men rushed behind their fearless leader. As Chemish had predicted, the next assault would be directed at a gully beyond the tree line. Few Nephites had been posted there earlier, although it was a key to breaking Chemish's line. He had been so sure of Lamanite intentions to make a frontal attack that he ignored the position, believing it would be a later objective. Now half of his men were concentrated among the dense trees and underbrush behind the gully. Manti's contingent was the best of all Zeniff's archers. Sherem likewise would prove to be a gifted captain, who someday would be an impressive captain under King Noah.
"Stand, men! Fight for your families!" Sherem encouraged. His small contingent grimly waited for the onslaught, being determined to hold their position despite the Lamanite host. Manti's men fired a volley of arrows before Lehonti's force reached the gully. Again many unarmored warriors fell. Their comrades pushed forward, leaped into the gully and struggled up the steep bank. Sherem and Chemish led their heavy infantry in a counterattack. Sweating men grunted and shouted in the melee; the wounded screeched in sudden pain or lie moaning in their blood. A savage fight engulfed the Nephite position. Lehonti and his personal guard broke through at one point, pressing the beleaguered but dour men of Sherem. Manti hurled his lightly armored bowmen against the jubilant enemy, repulsing them. However, he fell with a mortal wound even as the Lamanites retreated from the woods. Lehonti's anger could not keep his troops in the body-filled gully. They staggered back to rest and curse the Nephites.
Chemish and Sherem again pursued their foes only a short distance and collected arrows. Their archers fired several volleys into Tubaloth's front ranks as they began making a new assault up t he hill. The outnumbered Nephites quickly retreated into the woods. Tubaloth dispatched a large number of his own bowmen to prevent a flank attack by Chemish's force.
Despite a more organized attempt, the Lamanite center failed to break the waiting Nephites. Lemuel failed to support Tubaloth as he had been ordered. Therefore Zeniff was able to use a portion of his left wing to strike the Lamanites exposed right flank. Although several hundred Lamanites reached the crest and strove to break the line, the defense was stubborn. Zeniff brought his reserves up in time to crush the threat. Again Tubaloth's command withdrew in disorder.
Lemuel's men finally began moving up the hill just as the Nephite reserves were driving Tubaloth back. The Lamanite force faltered when another storm of arrows and rocks swept their ragged line. The halfhearted attack petered out. Lemuel ordered his men back without accomplishing anything except to further infuriate Tubaloth.
For a short space of time both sides rested in the afternoon heat, too exhausted to continue fighting. The respite was brief, though, for the Lamanite captains were anxious to renew the battle.
Atop the hill Zeniff again conferred with his chief captains, including those under Chemish's command, who had come over for the conference. Men sat wearily on the ground and sipped warm water. Not far beyond the circle of Nephite leadership their tired men ate cold rations and relaxed; many continued to watch for the next Lamanite attack with angry eyes.
"Chemish," Zeniff praised, "your men have served us well this day. They have been the key in breaking the Lamanite assaults."
Several other officers nodded agreement. Sherem flushed in embarrassment but Chemish's face was devoid of emotion. He merely replied, "They will come soon. This time we must counterattack before they reach these heights. But be sure that each commander explains to his men that they must not pursue farther than the base of this hill.”
“Yea," stated a squat man in heavy armor, "Our force is too small to risk in open fields."
"Prepare your men, then. This may be their final chance," Zeniff said as he noticed the late afternoon sun. The officers also were aware that it soon would be too dark for a fight. Shouting came from the front and Nephite captains rushed back to their men.
"Attack! Attack, and do not turn back!" shouted king Laman. The Lamanite host lurched forward, united for the first time in a coordinated assault. Tubaloth had used the respite to berate his officers and gain Laman's approval for a concerted, all-out attack up the slopes and in the woods. Laman no longer concerned himself with losses; he wanted victory.
Although their captains felt confident and encouraged their men, many soldiers were afraid of the Nephite bowmen and slingers. They also feared the well-armored and helmeted infantry holding the hill. Previous slaughter dampened their ardor. An undercurrent of sullenness marched with the moving men.
The whole Lamanite army pressed forward. They kept no reserves. Even the king and his bodyguard came, lifting the spirits of his army. A great shout erupted and the front lines charged up the slope. Lehonti directed his force against Chemish and Sherem in the woods.
More Nephite missiles killed and wounded a great many assailants, but they could not stem the onrush. Those in the forest gave ground stubbornly. Those on the hill waited. A final flight of arrows and stones flew from the hilltop and Nephite horns blared. The Nephite heavy infantry rushed against the oncoming Lamanites. The surprise tactic shook the line. Rear ranks slammed into those ahead, creating more chaos and panic. But it also prevented men in the front from retreating. The Nephite impetus carried only a few paces before bogging down in the sea of struggling soldiers. Men stabbed and hacked. Neither side could move forward.
During the fading afternoon light as men parried and thrust, Zeniff's captain of archers and slingers led his lightly clad men down the hill and flanked Lemuel's force. They loosed an unexpected volley into the packed ranks, causing much slaughter and terror. The Lamanites reeled and broke, leaving Tubaloth's right flank exposed. His lines began to crack.
A large Nephite farmer used his scimitar to behead Tubaloth in one mighty sweep. The headless torso fell backward into his disheartened troops, spraying blood from the still-beating heart. The crack became a stream and then a route with Nephites shouting and striking down their disorganized foe. However, despite their success, the Nephites stopped at the base of the body-strewn hill as their leaders had ordered. Immediately their captains urged a retreat back to the crest. They retrieved their wounded and waited in the twilight.
Lehonti's men had to withdraw, though they had been close to winning a victory in the forest. He quickly sought out Laman when he learned of Tubaloth's death. It was an opportunity for advancement that he would grasp.
"Great King," Lehonti began, "We nearly succeeded! I was driving them; one more push and we would have destroyed those in the forest. If Tubaloth had continued my men would not have been compelled to retreat."
Laman grimaced. "Tubaloth was killed in battle," he declared curtly. "No one ordered a retreat. My soldiers ran to save themselves. Again the Great Spirit frowns on us."
The king's dreary attitude did not deter Lehonti. He desired the position of Chief Captain and was determined to obtain it. He felt no sorrow for Tubaloth's death.
"Hearken to my words, King Laman, and I shall give you a victory even now," he purred. "Declare me Chief Captain and the army will destroy Zeniff's men tonight."
Laman shot Lehonti an astonished look. "What? You would make an attack in the dark? You cannot even see the enemy!"
"The twilight gives enough light for us to see the way. Besides, it will prevent the Nephite archers and slingers from seeing also. They won't expect such an attack."
The king remained skeptical but allowed his anger to control his judgment. He called a council of war and announced Lehonti's new position. The new commander ordered preparations for an immediate assault, despite vociferous objections from his subordinates. Within the hour surly Lamanite troops marched for the dark hill. Light was nearly gone and the Nephites appeared as blurred silhouettes. Few moved in the dusk.
Keen-eyed sentries reported Lamanite movements to Zeniff. The Nephite captains were amazed to learn of a night assault. Another council was called.
"My men cannot see targets in the dark," the bowman's leader stated. "Nor can mine see in the woods," Chemish warned. Several men grumbled in agreement.
Zeniff frowned in dismal thought. He began scratching in the dirt with a twig. "This we could not expect. We have no time to withdraw. The Lamanites would cut us apart."
"What can we do but stay and fight?" a man queried.
"Fire will help us," Zeniff calmly replied. He gazed toward a campfire some soldiers had started for cooking meat. He sniffed the air and smiled wryly. "The wind favors us, too. Lamanites fear fighting in the dark. Their king must be desperate to force his men into this. Yea, verily, our bowmen can use fire to light the slopes and frighten our enemies."
Sherem spoke up, "Such a fire would provide light for accurate shooting as well as prevent an attack. It's a good plan so long as the flames don't turn on us."
Others voiced acceptance of the proposal. The council ended and troops hastened into position. Crickets and an occasional bird cry punctuated the cool night air.
Lamanites shouted their death threats once they began climbing the hill. To their utter astonishment a flight of burning arrows rained down on the dry grass between them and the defenders. More shafts fell many paces in back of the leading ranks. An inferno quickly sent sheets of flame that burned soldiers or drove them backwards. Several dozen were trapped between the walls of fire and perished. None attempted to leap through the fire to attack the hill. More soldiers were trampled or died at the hands of their fear-struck friends than were killed by the fire. Officers who attempted to stem the riotous rout simply were stabbed and kicked aside.
Lehonti likewise was astounded. Laman, staring at his running army, barked, "Do you see why we never attack at night? Have you gained wisdom, Chief Captain?" he sneered. "Guards, gather my things and get out of here!"
The king and his bodyguards managed to escape before the army mobbed them. Men discarded weapons and ran. Throughout the long evening Lamanites kept moving through the wilderness until they reached home in the land of Shemlon. Fear of the Nephites temporarily replaced thoughts of anger and vengeance. Laman was forced to retain Lehonti as Chief Captain, but he no longer listened to the braggart's plans for renewed attacks on Zeniff's people. Failing to sway the king, Lehonti began cultivating Laman's son, also named Laman. However, nine years would pass before king Laman's death would pave the way for Lehonti to lead a Lamanite army against the people of Zeniff.
Joy swept the hilltop and woods. Chemish's men fanned out in search of Lamanite stragglers. Scouts confirmed the complete rout of Lamanite forces. Men sank where they stood and slept. In the morning, details collected corpses for burial. To the dismay of the small Nephite army, 279 of their fellows fell in the battle; a staggering 3,043 Lamanite bodies were recovered. Even Zeniff helped bury the dead. He believed in rule by example and never shirked from a duty.
The Nephite captains held a ceremony to honor fallen comrades and to give thanks to God for His protection. A contingent of soldiers remained on the hill to stand guard. Zeniff then led the remainder of his men back to the city of Lehi-Nephi, where they received a joyous welcome. The Nephite king began preparations to thwart future Lamanite attacks. He posted guards round about the land, sent spies into the wilderness to be alert for threats, and ordered the making of various weapons.
Farmers returned to their fields; people went back to the city of Shilom. Peace brought prosperity for the growing Nephite community.
Four hundred and twenty-two years had passed since the time that Lehi led his family out of Jerusalem into the wilderness. Nine years had passed since the battle on the hill south of Shilom between the Lamanites and the people of Zeniff. Chemish and his wife returned to their village. He declined a position in the army but was willing to coordinate intelligence reports for the region south of Shilom, where King Laman's army previously had struck. Nizana and Daniel married and worked the farm of Nizana's dead father. Zeniff continued to make preparations for war, in the conviction that the Lamanites would come again.
An orange-red sun began sinking into distant, hazy woods. A scattering of weary farmers plodded homeward through the heat in anticipation of dinner and the usual evening neighborhood chats. Barking dogs and noisy children greeted them.
Daniel shooed a stray dog from his path, waved a last farewell to a pudgy fellow, and smiled as he neared his own home. Smoke rose above the simple mud-brick hut. Several low wicker pens housed small flocks of chickens or ducks. Five sheep and several lambs bleated in a stouter-fenced area. A small, spindly girl threw feed to the chickens. An older boy with a square face and thick black hair was carrying a bundle of dry branches to a rough shelter next to the hut.
"Papa's home!" the girl cried and raced to hug Daniel. The boy looked up with a grin but continued stacking wood. Daniel dropped his hoe and swept the giggling girl into his muddy arms, squeezing her.
"Ha, Becky, how's my little girl? What did you and mama make for dinner?" he asked while sitting her on his shoulders.
"It's a big surprise, papa! I'm not supposed to tell you that mama had a goat killed, and Benji picked a lot of different fruit, and I helped make some sweet bread with mama, and..."
"Whoa, Becky, enough now. It's not a surprise if you tell me. Get down now, I want to speak with mama."
Daniel put his daughter down and entered the hut. Nizana was placing food on a table and looked up as he sidled up to her. She pushed him back slightly.
"Wash first, my husband," she commanded.
"Why did you have the goat killed?" he asked quietly.
"Because tonight Chemish and Sarah will eat with us. He sent word that he wishes to speak with you, so I invited them for supper. Daniel, is something wrong?" she pled.
"I know of nothing unusual, although it isn't strange for them to visit us. Ever since the battle years ago, he has shown interest in our lives. They were prominent guests at our wedding."
"Yes," she affirmed with a wistful memory of that special day, "but the invitation was more formal this time. I feel he has bad tidings."
"Hmm. So we eat goat tonight. I'll wash. I suppose they will be here soon." Daniel continued outside to find water.
Chemish, his still robust wife, and three servants arrived well after the sun had set. Constellations had begun their nightly dance in a clear, cool sky and several dogs barked incessantly as the guests shuffled up the narrow dirt path to Daniel's door. Two of the servants were armed soldiers and they waited outside -- one near the door and the other in the back, watching an approach via the orchards. The third servant, a young girl with long dark hair, accompanied
"Ho, the house!" Chemish boomed. "Friend Daniel, hungry guests await the generosity of your table."
Nizana quickly opened the door and rushed outside to embrace Sarah; Daniel strode out to greet his old commander with kind words; the two children hung back until the adults recognized them. Chemish, in his gruff but kindly manner, urged them to share hugs. Becky squealed and raced to him while Benji smiled shyly and walked up to receive affectionate thumps on the back.
"Look at this Becky! Soon I'll be calling her Rebecca," Chemish exclaimed with exaggeration. She giggled in delight. “And Benjamin has grown half a hand since I last saw him." Benji beamed with the praise. Chemish was always a success with children.
"Husband, go in now. Nizana's food will get cold while you jaw," Sarah scolded gently.
"Oh, no! Everything is fine," the younger woman declared. "It's so wonderful to have you visit again. Look how the children love him."
They finally entered the hut. The goat was a success. Following the dinner, Nizana sent the children outside to hear stories from Sarah's servant girl. The women ostensibly worked in the kitchen, but kept still so as to hear what Chemish explained to Daniel. Even Sarah had no idea what ill news her husband had for the farmer.
The old man took a sip of weak wine and eyed Daniel. He put down the cup with a long sigh and spread gnarled fingers on the wooden table. "Daniel, did you mark the soldiers I brought?"
"Of course," the younger man replied. "I suppose they must accompany you because of your position."
"Partly so...though another reason is due to what I learned today from one of our spies. King Laman is dead. He died three days ago and his son has been proclaimed king."
"What! Then we'll have another war,” Daniel shuddered. A low gasp came from the kitchen.
"Yes," Chemish affirmed. "Especially since young king Laman listens to an old enemy of ours -- Chief Captain Lehonti. I fear an invasion any day. I sent news of this to Zeniff. He ordered more spies into the wilderness and will muster the army for war."
"Do you expect the Lamanites to attack us here in Shilom the same as last time?" Daniel wondered.
"No, I believe they will strike us in the north, probably near the old tower of Nephi. Zeniff also thinks they will attack north of Lehi-Nephi. So we must prepare the people -- after only nine years of peace."
The two sat in a reflective silence several minutes. Finally Daniel stood and began pacing. "What do you suggest that I do?" He stopped and cocked his head while staring at Chemish. "You came tonight to ask me something—it was not just to warn us of a Lamanite attack."
His friend nodded with a grim smile. "Verily, you guess correctly. I do wish something, several things, of you. First, gather what food and livestock you can and take them to the city of Lehi-Nephi; at least be prepared for the day when the Lamanites come so that you will not be killed in your fields as father and brothers were. Second, I want you to be a captain over the troop I plan to organize from this sector."
"What?" Daniel was stunned. I'm no soldier. I know nothing about commanding other men. I can fight but cannot lead."
"Nonsense, I remember the words your captain said about you during the battle on the hill. Wait, hear me out!" he ordered. "I also know that many farmers here value your opinion and would follow you. Besides, you would only be responsible for 50 men. I already have recommended you to army commanders in Lehi-Nephi."
"So, it appears that I have little voice in the matter," Daniel sighed.
"I need you, Daniel. We're short on experienced men. I shall be called to lead in battle again."
Daniel opened his eyes in wonder. Chemish continued, "Yea, even in my old age I must lift the sword. Zeniff, too, will fight in defense of our rights and freedom."
"Then, I can do no less. I'll do as you wish," he concluded.
"I knew that I could count on you. Here is what you must do." The two men spoke late into the night.
The Lamanites struck north of Shilom as was expected. Spies gave Zeniff sufficient warning for him to prepare his people. He encouraged them to have faith in God, speaking much about how Laman and his brethren had blinded themselves to the truth and had taught their children false traditions -- to the extent that Zeniff's people were vexed with sore trials by a crafty king whose previous promises merely were part of a plan to bring them into bondage.
Inasmuch as Lehonti's army far exceeded his own, Zeniff sequestered women and children in the wilderness. His men gathered in one large body to meet the Lamanites; he ordered them to fight in ranks based on age, placing even old men and boys old enough to wield a weapon on the battlefield. Chemish commanded a wing, in which Daniel served with his 50 men.
The Nephites possessed many fine weapons and much armor due to the years Zeniff spent preparing for this day. His small army was well trained. That of the new King Laman was armed with sword, scimitar, sling and bow; they shaved their heads and wore a leather girdle round about their loins; but they had neither body armor nor helmets.
"Chemish, old friend, once more I rely on your advice," Zeniff smiled as he grasped the man's arm. “I plan to block the Lamanites in the hills north of Shilom. If we cannot drive them out of our lands, then I expect the army to hold long enough for the women, children and old to escape into the wilderness. Perhaps they can return to Zarahemla."
"Umm. I would recommend the same course. Although I don't believe we can use the same strategy as last time."
"Nay," Zeniff agreed. "But we have an exceedingly strong position and Lehonti must either attack it or take his army back into the wilderness to try the southern route into Shilom, as Tubaloth did the last time."
"He won't do that," scoffed Chemish. "That one cares little for the safety of his soldiers. He'll order a frontal assault using his whole force and bull his way up the hills."
Zeniff's lips twisted in a grim smile. "Just what I hope he'll do. I have a few surprises for them." He pointed to a line of large boulders poised atop the hill crests where the Nephite army waited for their foe. "Men can use those for cover against Lamanite arrows until the enemy is close enough, then we'll roll them down on top of Lehonti's men.
"I also ordered men to place thousands of sharpened stakes in the hillside and cover them. They may not kill anyone, but many won't be walking up here to fight us. Our bowmen and slingers are positioned mainly in the wings. I plan for them to enfilade the flanks and perhaps catch the center in a cross fire."
Chemish was amazed. He turned from the battle line to gaze intently at Zeniff's stern face. "Never have I heard of such tactics! Surely Lehonti will be surprised, but it troubles me that you have thought of such tricks. I remember when you urged us to seek a peace treaty with Laman, always looking for the good in others and striving to live in peace."
"Yea, such was my nature -- naively to be blinded to the cunning and craftiness of our sworn enemies and imagine that their traditions could be overcome good intentions. Laman's fair promises blinded me and I led my people not only into this land, but also into a bitter life of suffering and fear of destruction. Is it any wonder that I find this burden heavy to bear?"
"Zeniff, my old friend and companion," Chemish shook his head with heartfelt sadness, "You berate yourself too harshly. We all believed Laman's lies. "Nevertheless, we have shared days of joy in this, the land of our fathers. Be content and optimistic like the Zeniff of old."
"That man has gone -- gone with the dreams," Zeniff sighed and faced the forest. "Better that we see life as it is. Dreams vanish as swiftly as smoke in a winter's wind.
"Come! Let's look at the line. I want your opinion of our preparations."
The two old men slowly walked along the hilltops, followed by several aides. A hot sun oversaw the toiling of bare-chested soldiers. Hundreds still labored with placing short stakes in the hard earth. Others fell trees that blocked the archers’ field of fire. The Nephite position was not susceptible to envelopment or flanking actions. Lehonti would lose many in battle.
Another day passed before spies brought word that the Lamanite host was at hand. Chemish recommended that a reserve force be placed out of sight behind the hills. Water and supplies were readied. Soldiers rested.
Lehonti's force arrived late in the afternoon and encamped within the forest. Their scouts viewed the Nephite formations and reported that many stones were located on the hills. The report angered their commander, who had taken an oath that he would attack whatever force Zeniff sent to face him. He had expected to surprise the Nephites, thinking they would send an army south to the same hill where Tubaloth died. Bound by his oath and blinded with an increasing hatred for Zeniff, Lehonti ordered the army to camp and swore that he would storm the heights at dawn.
Both armies settled in an uneasy slumber. Pickets often mistook common sounds for an enemy and shouted out challenges. Only the veterans slept well.
Nephite soldiers huddled near campfires and ate a morning meal as the sun began splashing an array of yellow, red and orange on clumps of somber gray clouds. Leaders held a final council. Prince Noah and his father stood apart from the captains. Zeniff was equipped with plain but prudent gear, whereas his son sported gaudy and expensive armor. His helmet was adorned with gold, silver and precious stones, as was his sword's hilt and scabbard. Large golden broaches pinned a scarlet cloak to his breastplate. Noah, though a young man, already was developing a paunch. He nurtured a beard to match dark, curly hair. Zeniff frowned with manifest irritation at his pompous son.
"It cannot be done. I have named those who will command in the coming battle. You are young and lack experience. Be content with the detachment you raised. They, at least, seem to like you well enough."
"Nay, father. I am a prince and shall be king. It is my right to command a wing of the army!"
"Enough!" Zeniff thundered. "You are not yet king, neither have you any right to be placed above proven leaders of men. Earn your right by proving yourself in battle!" He looked with disdain at Noah's outfit. "Do you expect such rich attire to impress tested warriors? Nay, son, fight well and govern yourself before seeking to command those who have experienced what you merely have heard about."
Stubborn Noah continued to press his father. "How shall I prove myself if another orders me?"
Zeniff sighed wearily. "Even a king is governed by those he rules. Someday you must learn this or be cast down. Peace now. There are years enough ahead for you. But this battle is crucial for our freedom. You will follow orders!"
The king abruptly turned his back on Noah and strode off to join the council. The prince muttered in livid fury, "Old fool, soon my day to rule will be here! The rabble is born to follow orders, but not me -- a king's son. I shall give them."
Noah stomped out of the tent and beckoned for his hawk-nosed advisor. Amulon, back to my men! The king makes me subject to another today," he said with heavy sarcasm.
"Then we must show how valiant in battle you are, my prince," charmed Amulon. "It is only a matter of time before you inherit the crown. Be patient. We can afford to wait. Let the old men fight to preserve your inheritance."
"Common fools!" Noah blurted. Amulon smiled thinly. “Just stay alive, my prince, and we'll maneuver you into popular favor."
Noah grasped his sword hilt, fingering the inlaid jewels, and hissed, "This is pretty but also is an excellent blade -- and I know how to use it. Do not mock me!"
"Nay, such was never my intent. Our destinies are mated. My zeal is channeled to enhance your path to the throne. The coming battle presents an opportunity to thrust yourself favorably before all men in the kingdom." Amulon's black eyes glinted with calculated fervor. "Seize it! Act a part, if only for a short season, that you may gain the crown sooner."
"It's mine no matter what happens!" Noah retorted in a rage.
"Verily, that is so, but by playing the hero many can be w on to the secret plans we agreed upon. Trust me, prince, the rabble is swayed easily and can be used against titled opponents in the future. Now is the time for patience."
"Humph," Noah pouted and withdrew his hand from the sword. "But I refuse to serve under Chemish. I would get precious little glory."
"True. His renown dims the actions of others in his command. He will command on the right and your father in the center. So, we must get you posted on the left under captain Nephihah. I'll speak to your father later about this."
The two trudged back to Noah's small troop while the Nephite captains continued in council. Amulon knew a victory would pave the way for the prince -- and eventually for himself to gain much authority over the people.
"Attack! Attack!" Lehonti shouted. A mob of Lamanite soldiers rushed up the hills to attack the stalwart Nephite defenders behind the stones. Shouts and blaring horns frightened birds that took wing in a dawning sky. The growing light glinted red off thousands of naked weapons and burnished armor. Sandaled and bare feet churned dew-covered grass. Wild howling, vile threats, rude chants and a thunder of clashing weapons shook the air. The huge Lamanite army swept forward.
Behind the stones infantry crouched and archers loosed flight after flight of arrows into Laman's men. Slingers threw stones. War horns and drums sounded above the din. The first wave staggered under the barrage but regained momentum with Lehonti's personal appearance at the front. A mighty cheer crescendoed.
Arrows and stones fell as Lamanites swarmed up the base of the hills. But a fresh wave of agony wailed from the throats of many hundred surprised and sorely injured soldiers. They stumbled or stepped on the hidden stakes. Sharp points tore ligaments -- thrust through bare soles -- gouged bare flesh. Some fell hands first onto other stakes, bones crushed and blood pumping into the grass. The strange and fearsome obstacle killed the attack; men milled about in anger and confusion. Arrows and stones continued to rain down.
A messenger ran up to Chemish. His chest heaved in labor as he wheezed, "Sir, King Zeniff orders you to be ready with the rocks."
"Inform the king that I shall wait until the Lamanites are within one hundred paces of my lines."
"Yes, sir," the messenger replied and turned.
Chemish watched the young man rush back to the center hill. For a moment his mind abandoned the battlefield. A memory rushed him back to Sarah -- to their last leave-taking. She was more frightened and sad than at any time he could remember. "Oh, my husband, my dearest love, I fear you will not come back this time," she had cried. "In the past I was afraid but confident. This...Oh, I don't want you to go!" "I must go," he answered, as she knew he would. She held him longer than usual; it had been a tearful good-bye.
His mind jerked back to the fight. Lehonti had rallied his troops. Again they moved up the slopes, many more stepping on the stakes or struck by arrows and hurled stones. The heavy toll taken by bowmen was slowing both wings of the Lamanite army. Lehonti kept the center pushing forward. It was within one hundred paces of Zeniff's force.
"Now, push!" Zeniff shouted. Men pulled away restraining logs and heaved against the large boulders until they rolled into the bunched foe. Over a thousand men died or were injured from the fast-rolling rocks. Crushed bodies littered the hillside. Survivors wailed in astonishment during their flight away from the Nephite lines. Lehonti, too, was amazed. However, his anger flared and he ordered his captains to prepare their commands for another assault.
King Laman, however, was reluctant. He and Lehonti spoke while captains organized the broken ranks. "Too many men have been lost! You promised me an easy victory," Laman complained. "We should have approached from the south as I suggested."
"They would have been prepared for us there."
"Hah! Do you mean they are not prepared for us here? Has your desire for revenge blinded you?"
Lehonti's weathered face flushed in a surge of contempt. "Do not tell me how to lead men, boy! You hang back during the battle while men die for you. I have sworn an oath to take that position. If you try to stop me, this people will have a new king within the hour!" He whirled away and left the speechless king.
Laman looked up at a thin cloud cover and the morning sun, stating with grim determination, "I was a fool to keep him in command. Wives and children will blame me for men killed here this day. If Lehonti loses, I swear by my father's blood that he will die." He glanced over a shoulder to be sure no one could overhear, then muttered, "And if he wins a great victory, I'll find a way for him to meet a quiet death during the celebration feast."
On the Nephite right Daniel viewed mangled Lamanite corpses with indifference. The memory of his father-in-law's death in the cornfield remained vivid. He neither was vindictive nor bloodthirsty; yet, the sight of Lamanite suffering triggered no sympathy from him. His gaze swept the battlefront and noted a reforming of troops in the forest.
"The next attack will reach our lines," he observed to himself. "Prepare weapons!" he ordered. "Keep shields up and remember to strike either an arm or leg. An opening for a kill will follow."
Men gathered their gear and watched the enemy host sally from the woods. Their captains could be heard giving the order for a general assault. Lehonti commanded in the center. His sword pointed directly toward Zeniff's standard.
"Tell the reserves to stand ready," Zeniff told an aide. "Lehonti sends his whole army this time, but the main blow will fall on us. Go!" The young man ran down the hill to a small force under Sherem's command.
In Nephihah's wing Amulon discreetly eyed Noah as the Lamanites advanced within bowshot. The prince, he could see, was afraid but determined to acquit himself well. Many other eyes scrutinized his bearing.
Nephihah and a group of officers arrived to assay Noah's contingent. The chief captain was a large, well-muscled man. A helmet covered his bald head; a thin gray beard and bushy eyebrows framed his careworn face. Tired brown eyes still held fire in them. He bowed slightly and spoke.
"Prince, you hold a key position in my line. I trust you will stand firm. Captain Sherem has a reserve force but I prefer not to call on him."
"I need no one else," Noah retorted with a curt nod at his soldiers. "We can hold. Perhaps you will inform my father, also."
Nephihah smiled. "Yea, that I shall."
The officers continued inspecting other units along the line. Noah scowled at their receding backs. Someday such men would pay for their insolence.
Lamanite ranks flowed around the boulders and multitude of crushed bodies, moved up the stake-studded slopes, and charged the Nephite shield wall. More soldiers stepped on the stakes, writhing on the ground in agony as many thousands charged through a last wave of arrows and flung stones. The clangor of battle rose when Lamanites reached the hill crest. Swords clashed and cut into shields or exposed flesh. Stone-encrusted clubs smashed faces. Wounded men on the ground slashed the legs of any foe within reach. Sharper Nephite weapons bit deep through animal skins and light shields, severing limbs and heads. Blood and innards splattered heaving bodies on both sides.
The Nephite center threatened to break until Zeniff called Sherem's men to action. The small band was enough to blunt Lehonti's thrust. The two chief captains exchanged several blows, Zeniff suffering a minor wound before Sherem pressed the weary Lehonti back. The young Nephite captain proved a more skillful swordsman. He feinted to the right and lunged, driving his blade deep into the Lamanite's chest. A swift upward movement ripped Lehonti's lung and heart. He fell backward onto several of his men, who raised their voices in anger and despair. His death signaled an end to their hopes.
Laman ordered a withdrawal after he learned of his captain's demise. However, his inexperience caused confusion and a rout ensued. Dozens of men were trampled, others captured. Nephite captains such as Daniel, and even prince Noah, led their men in pursuit. Noah particularly earned respect for his ferocious and dogged pursuit. The remaining Lamanite soldiers trudged back to the land of Shemlon, where a war-weary king Laman refused to consider any plans for retaliation.
So many thousands were killed that the Nephites wearied of counting them. Among the dead was Chemish. The old leader had died in a fierce struggle to prevent the Lamanites from piercing the Nephite right wing. Daniel sadly took charge of the body.
Later, Zeniff established peace in the land once again. He ruled another sixteen or seventeen years before dying of old age. Although it was against his better judgment, he named Noah king prior to his death. He and others had been encouraged by Noah's actions in battle.
Their hopes proved fruitless. Noah, under Amulon's constant influence and tutelage, became more cunning. Outwardly, the people at first benefited from construction programs, but the army that Zeniff had maintained was allowed to dwindle in readiness. Conditions worsened despite strong voices of protest from men such as Mordacai, Alma's father.
Helam's question was apposite. What would Alma do to restore the stability and strength his father, Zeniff and Chemish had fought for throughout their years in the land of their first fathers?