by Michael Young
And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord. —Ether 2:6
“Unstop the hole!”
A red-faced man dashed toward the center of the barge, his hands groping the ceiling for the stopper’s handle.
The barge bucked sideways and he crashed to the floor. Passengers screamed in terror as they lost their footing. The glowing stones which hung from a tether swung about recklessly, casting ever-changing shadows around the barge.
The barge leveled out, and the muscular man renewed his attempt for the plug. His fingers closed around the handle, and his muscles tensed.
Kish turned, but did not remove his hand from the handle. “Oh, why is that? Do you wish to suffocate everyone inside? What inspired leadership, Omer.”
Omer tensed, “Do you not feel the storm? If we unstop it, we will surely drown!”
Kish shook his head, “I’ll just open it a bit. I don’t mind getting a little wet.”
“Kish! Jared put me in charge, or has this storm rattled your brain?”
Kish lowered his hand. “This mess is your brother’s fault. How many days have we been aimlessly flopping around? 200? 300? We could use some actual leadership.”
Omer stepped towards Kish. “Listen to what you are saying, Kish! My brothers are men of God! You know what Mahonri saw…why those stones glow so brightly!”
Kish wrinkled his face and steadied himself as the barge rocked precariously to his right. “Maybe they will start saying such nice things about me once I save their lives.” He reached up again to pull out the stopper, when suddenly the barge pitched violently upwards. It climbed at an alarming rate, sending everything sliding backwards. The movement slowed and then stopped, and the barge hung for an eternal second.
The barge flew forward, gaining speed until it seemed it could not possibly go any faster. Omer fell forward and grasped blindly for anything to break his fall. His hands found the tether that held the glowing stones in place. It snapped and Omer and a stone went spiraling out of control. He fell on top of the stone and the entire barge went black.
A tremendous cracking filled the air as an unseen barrier finally halted the barge’s progress. Timbers splintered and water poured into the barge through every crack. The stopper broke off with Kish still gripping the handle. Omer rose and found himself battling the rising water. He raised the stone out from underneath him and immediately wished that he hadn’t.
The barge lay in ruins, and the waves whisked off people, animals and provisions in all directions. His faithful words, just moments before seemed at once shallow and naïve. He could feel his faith evaporating before the enormity of the disaster.
“It can’t end like this!” he cried above the churning waves. “Why would we be led so far just to die?” Only the stinging rain and wind answered and he wondered if the Promised Land they were seeking was in fact the one on the other side of death.
Faith and fear struggled within him, wrestling for what might be his finally moments. He found himself wondering whether his older brother was the only one entitled to miracles. It up vivid memories of another day and another disaster.
This is how if felt when the tower fell.
He tied the precious stone around his waist and plunged himself into the water in a desperate attempt to help the others. His wife had been at the back of the barge, feeding their young son, not yet even two years old. He caught a glimpse of bright yellow amidst the turmoil.
Her dress, she was wearing that yellow dress!
Without a second thought, he flung himself towards the color, his arms beating back the water in a fierce staccato rhythm. The color drifted farther and farther away, teasing him as if the waves had developed a personal vendetta. He doubled his pace, his muscles screaming in protest and the color drew tantalizingly closer. Furiously, he beat back the water drawing closer and closer until he seized hold of the plank to which the color was attached. He reached out with burning muscles, screaming his wife’s name to the wind.
And found only a torn scrap of cloth.
It was the same bright yellow that had made his wife’s dress. Deseret cloth they had called it, because of its resemblance to honey. The cloth still showed the seam from when it had been a part of a larger garment.
Utterly spent, Omer collapsed onto the plank and grasped it as hard as he could. In the great storm, the water that dripped from his eyes scarcely counted.
He thought he might drown in grief before he had the chance to drown in the waves. However, in a moment, quite a different feeling washed over him. His entire body flooded with a profound sense of peace, unlike any he had ever experienced before, and a phrase, barely the suggestion of words entered his mind.
Peace, be still.
The voice resonated throughout his body and filled him with light.
It is just how my brother described it, after returning with the stones.
Omer closed his eyes and surrendered to the peace that enveloped him, knowing that despite the chaos around him, he was being steered in the right direction.
Omer opened his eyes slowly, and even when fully open, he could not make out what he was seeing. All around him stretched damp sand, and above him stood a brilliant white figure in a flowing robe. At once, he thought that he had drowned and was being welcomed into the next life.
He looked down at his hands and noticed that he was still clutching the scrap of yellow cloth. The pain bubbled up in him anew.
The bright figure beckoned to Omer. “Do not fear. The Lord has heard thy prayers and the prayers of thy brethren.”
Omer attempted to rise, and it came easily. His toes sunk into wet sand and he stood gazing up at the figure in reverence and fascination. “We have prayed to be led to the Promised Land. Do I stand there now?”
The angel nodded, his countenance beaming. “Yea, thought the Lord hath led thy branch here for a special purpose.”
Omer felt his heart seize within him. “A branch? What has happened to Jared and the others?”
The angel smiled, and at once Omer felt his fears dissolve like sand before the waves. “They have been led to another part of His Vineyard, and they shall be protected and prospered as they keep His commandments. You must now take on a great responsibility.”
The angel gestured to a hill which rose starkly behind him from the beach. “Get thee unto the top of this hill. There you will find a cave in which sacred writings are held. It is your task to protect these writings and record the doings of your people until you will be taken home. Be faithful and diligent in these things, and this shall verily be a land of promise unto you and unto those who shall hereafter possess this land.”
The air around the angel glowed intensely and it in an instant, the messenger was gone, replaced with a pillar of light. The light moved slowly up the beach towards the wooded hillside. Omer stepped forward, compelled to follow. It snaked up the beach, and wound its way around the trees. Though Omer’s muscles burned in protest, he maintained the steady pace.
He twisted through the woods, until he could hardly tell which way the beach lay or how far he had come. At last, the light rested on a triangular rock formation with rivulets of water trickling down its sides.
The light subsided and Omer stepped up onto the spot where it had last rested. His gaze fell and he peered down into a dark tube leading into the earth. He could not make out its depth, nor if it even had a bottom at all.
Descend into the earth.
The thought entered his mind, and he immediately dismissed it as foolishness. He had not just escaped a shipwreck just to leap his own doom. He turned away to examine the rest of formation. A strange feeling tugged at his insides.
You must descend into the earth.
Omer gazed back into the hole and hesitated. Was he making this up? What could possibly be down this dank hole that could be so important?
He turned again, but when the compulsion came again, Omer turned and lowered himself slowly into the hole. His legs dangled in mid-air, even when he had lowered himself down with his arms as far as he could go. He steeled himself, and clenched his eyes tight. With an outrush of air, he released his hands and fell blindly into the earth.
He fell several feet and landed on a soft patch of earth and piled weeds. He stood slowly, overjoyed that he had not been injured. Suddenly, he realized that though the cave was dark, he could see quite clearly. He glanced down and found that the light was coming from the pocket of his robe. He reached down and extracted the glowing stone that had provided light for their barge for the entire voyage.
Holding the stone aloft, he made his way down a narrow tunnel, lined with wet moss and into a round chamber no larger the small tents they used for shelter. The chamber consisted of only a low stone bench set against an unnaturally smooth wall. Omer squinted as the light from the stone reflected unexpectedly off the surface of the wall. He lowered the stone and examined the wall. He felt the smooth surface just to make sure.
The entire face of the wall was covered with a thick sheet of silvery metal. He passed the light back and forth and found that the sheet was divided into three distinct sections with a deep groove between each one. Strange markings, unlike any writing he had ever seen filled the entire first section while the other two remained blank. He leaned in for a closer look and hit his head against something hanging from the ceiling.
He drew back quickly and nearly laughed in astonishment. Two clear stones, very much like the one he held in his hand hung suspended from the ceiling, connected with a thin wire so that they hung about eye width apart.
Omer reached up with trembling fingers and brought the strange stones in front of his face so that he could examine them. He gasped as he saw the metal sheet through the stones. The markings on the first section, which had seemed so strange before, now glowed brightly, and appeared to be in Omer’s own language.
He started at the top of the sheet and traced the words down to the bottom corner. His lips unconsciously mouthed the words, and one by the one, the words filled him up with intense delight. He found that he could not speak them aloud, but after only a single reading they were burned completely into his memory so that he could recall them at any time.
Reverently, he lowered the makeshift pair of spectacles and stared silently at the empty sections. Suddenly, he fell to his knees upon the bench and lifted his hands heavenward. “Oh, Lord, I thank thee that thou hast led me here to this sacred place. I know that thou hast led me here for a wise purpose, and oh, Lord, I am thy humble servant and desire only that thou would make thy purpose known unto me.”
The words of his prayer died off, and he stopped to listen, with only the sound of dripping water to break the silence.
Confused, Omer glanced around for something with which he could write, and settled on an ancient hammer and chisel, which he had not noticed before placed next to him on the bench. He placed the glowing stone on the bench, picked up the tools and held them in front of the untouched second section. He shook his head.
“What shall I write?” he called aloud. “I have no skill in writing. I know of nothing that deserves to be on this wall with such great words.”
Do not doubt. Only begin. Write the words that shall come into your heart.
He placed the chisel on the sheet of metal. He almost took his first swing when he stopped again.
“I cannot. I am not mighty in words as are my brothers. Why were they not sent to do this thing?”
He lowered the tools and the voice came again.
You may begin with the words of Jared and Mahonri, but then they will become your own words.
He raised the tools to the metal and carved in the first two words that came to his mind, “I, Omer…” His chest constricted within him, like a knot pulled too tight. He let the tools fall. “I can’t…this is too great a task for me.”
He laid his tools back on the bench and turned from the shiny plate. He could not bear to look on it.
He turned and stumbled back to the entrance, looking about for a means of escape. He had not seen the remains of the last writer, so it stood to reason that he had somehow escaped. He shined his light about the floor and then paused as it caught another glint of metal. He stooped and found it be a long chord with a thick metal hook on the end. He tossed it towards the mouth of the hole and heard it sink into the earth above. He pulled on it several times to make sure it was stable and then hefted himself out.
“Tight like unto a dish,” Kish scoffed, sliding over in his makeshift shelter to avoid the new leak that his roof had developed. The shelter had once been part of the barge and was the most intact piece they had been able to salvage.
If only the Tower had stayed up, he mused to himself. He had known it was a foolish endeavor, but it certainly had been good for business.
Another man, bedraggled and sopping stumbled up to Kish’s shelter and dropped to one knee. “My Lord Kish, I have interesting news.”
Kish straightened himself and wiped the moisture from his own face with a cloth. “What? Did you scrounge up more driftwood, Korianton? Or have you found the other stone at last?”
“Neither, sir. They found Omer, wandering in the woods. “
Kish shot to his feet, smacking his head in his process. Regaining his composure, he glared at Korianton. “Bring him here, immediately. Don’t let anyone else see him.” Korianton bowed and stumbled away.
He returned a few minutes later with Omer and another man in tow. Though Omer’s hands were bound, he did not struggle. The two men forced Omer to his knees.
“Look what washed in with the driftwood. We supposed you drowned.”
Omer smiled and met Kish’s gaze. “I am glad to see you alive, Kish. Were there many survivors?”
Kish rose and lifted the barge’s former stopper above his head to keep off the rain, and struck a blow hard against Omer’s face. “It is ‘Lord Kish’ now. It is clear to the others where your leadership has gotten them.” He reached into his robe and withdrew a transparent stone. “Behold Mahonri’s stone!”
Though it was clearly Mahonri’s stone, its inner radiance had fled.
“And I have the other,” said Omer. “Though mine still shines.” Korianton stuffed his hand roughly into Omer’s robes and yanked out the glowing stone. He held it aloft like a trophy, then yelped and dropped it. He clutched his hand in agony and fell to his knees. At the same time, the bands fell from Omer’s wrists and he stooped over and picked up the stone.
“You are not worthy to have them,” said Omer. “Nor are you worthy to lead.”
Kish shot forward, brandishing the stopper as a weapon, “No! I won’t let you rule! Just because your brother can spin wild stories and make stones glow! Either swear allegiance to me, or I will smite you and let the sea have another try with you!”
The other guard had now recovered and now held a short blade. Omer tensed, praying silently for deliverance.
He balked immediately at the prompted suggestion.
No, I can fight them, with Thy help!
Flee Omer, and return to the cave.
He thought of the terror of falling through darkness and then the immense relief of landing safely. He knew that there was only one course of action. He returned the stone to his pocket and fled.
The larger guard lashed out with a club and struck Omer hard on his left shoulder. Omer stumbled, but did not fall, wincing, but continuing forward. He ran without pause and heard the calls of his pursuers fade. Unconsciously, he retraced his steps through the trees to the entrance of the cave. Reaching the familiar shelter, he collapsed in the protective shadows. His cheeks bellowed and he clenched his eyes in frustration. “What am I supposed to do? If I can’t go back, how will I survive?”
He heard a fluttering to his left, and he shot upright. A small bird with bright blue and green plumage fluttered down in front of him, released a cluster of dark grapes, and fluttered off again. Omer considered the fruit, the streams of water trickling down the rocks and the cave that would provide ample shelter.
Omer nodded and picked up the cluster of grapes. He lowered a few into his mouth and savored the sweet juices as they quenched both his hunger and thirst. He lowered the grapes and stepped to the entrance of the cave.
“He will always provide.”
He closed his eyes, crossed his hands across his chest and then leapt into the dark hole.
And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward. —Alma 63:5
Hagoth surveyed the wreckage with his curious eye. The lines on his face deepened once and then again. Even in the fading light, he could see that the damage was extensive. He shook his head and then motioned to Zelehi, his fellow shipbuilder. Zelehi, a tall, solid man with short-cropped hair joined Hagoth at the damage site. His expression turned only slightly less pessimistic than Hagoth’s.
“Our men have scoured the island for suitable timbers,” said Hagoth. “But the quality of the wood is so different than in Zarahemla. I doubt we will be able to fashion a suitable patch.”
Zelehi cocked his head to the side, “So you are ready to commit to being an island dweller? I did not think that any land could contain your wanderlust.”
Hagoth sighed. “Believe me; I am not any fonder of this island than you. But I am even less fond of the idea of sailing out on a leaky ship with hundreds of lives resting on her. We must do this right, or not at all.”
Distant thunder growled once and then again more closely. The two men raised their eyes, and found something new to worry about.
“We had better make sure the wreck is secure before that storm hits,” called Zelehi, “Or she’ll be going back out to sea with or without us.”
The two men set frantically to work securing the wreck with stones and chords. The storm blew in fast and hard—the drops went from a light trickle to a torrent in a matter of seconds. A gale rocked both ship and its former captains, who labored despite the storm to secure the ship.
Hagoth turned to Zelehi and called and motioned to retreat. The call was swallowed up in the chaos, and in the next moment, a great wave leapt onto the beach and swept the two men off to sea. Hagoth floundered in the waves and the sea snatched him first back and then flung him forward towards the trees lining the top of beach. His feet met ground for an instant and he stumbled forward, off the beach and into the shelter of the trees.
He turned and searched the beach for Zelehi, but could not see anything through the stinging curtain of water. The sea reared up again the then pounced. Hagoth dashed into the forest as fast as he could in an effort to put as much distance between him and the beach as possible.
The rain intensified and he sloshed about in the mud, his feet vanishing completely into the earth with each step. Up ahead, he glimpsed a peculiar rock formation, jutting out of the forest floor in the middle of a clearing. He made for it, desperate for any relief from the relentless storm. He reached the rocks and found a narrow sloping passageway that lead into the earth. The arrangement of the rocks deflected the rain so that the cave appeared his best of chance of keeping dry.
He rushed into the cave and continued until he found himself in complete darkness. It was only then he realized that he might have stumbled into the den of some animal, which might not be eager to share its shelter. He was about to turn and take his chances with the rain, when he noticed a faint glow, originating nearby.
He swiveled about and crept towards the light, his senses on guard for the sound of irritated growling or the rustling of feet. He drew nearer to the light and found that it originated from a glowing stone suspended from the ceiling from a tether. In fascination, he reached up and brushed his fingers on the surface of the stone. When it did not burn his hand, he grasped more boldly and felt his whole body tingle with delight.
It was then he noticed the rest of incredible chamber—the shining wall more than half filled with writing and the odd makeshift spectacles suspended in front.
He reached for the suspended spectacles and then pulled them close to his face. Startled, he stepped back. Looking through the lens, vivid writing leapt out from the wall, where only scribbles had existed before. He steadied his shaking hands and swept his eyes over the gleaming wall, until they focused on a particular spot in the center section.
“This is a choice land in which the Lord shall raise up a righteous nation and prosper them as they keep His commandments.”
Hagoth lowered the spectacles. An idea occurred to him that he had never before considered: perhaps they were not meant to leave. Perhaps they were not shipwrecked here by mistake.
Hagoth glanced down and glimpsed a bundle of what once been yellow cloth. Reverently, he unwrapped the bundle to reveal a pair of ancient carving tools. He reached down for them, but stopped halfway. A dark stupor came over his mind.
He rewrapped the bundle and sat on the bench. There he sat, studying the words long after the rains subsided.
The forest had fallen dark and still as it stumbled back into camp. His clothes were stained and tattered but his heart held a new lightness. He found a ring of people around a fervent bonfire. Several men instinctively raised their bows on him, but quickly lowered them when they saw who it was.
Zelehi stepped forward. “Hagoth!” he cried. “Praise the Lord you’re alive!” He beckoned for him to take a place. “We were just discussing the discovery of a new kind of hardwood trees. It is my opinion that it will be strong enough to make the ship repairs.”
Another man stepped forward and offered a rusted sword and a circular piece of rotting wood. “And we stumbled on these today. A whole settlement full of things like this and rotting bones. It seems like we are not the first to live…and die here.”
A nervous murmur rippled through the crowd. Zelehi raised his hands for silence. “All the more the reason that we should leave this cursed place immediately. We should start the repairs at first light!”
A cheer rose from the crowd, and Hagoth stepped forward and raised his arms to be heard. “This is promising news. But please listen first to what I have to say. Just this morning, we were caught in a violent storm. I sought shelter, and found much more than I had been seeking.”
He told them of the cave with its strange glowing stone, the spectacles and the messages on the wall. No one interrupted. When he was finished, he took a step backwards and ran his gaze over the entire assembly.
“I know this must sound strange to you, but because of what I have seen, I believe that we are meant to stay here. The Lord steers the waves and the seas, and I trust that He knew what He was doing when he steered us here.”
Zelehi and several others could hold their silence no longer. “And did the Lord lead those other people here too? Then why have they all perished? What purpose did they serve?”
Hagoth shook his head. “I don’t know. All I know is what is whispered to my heart. If we listen to that voice, we will prosper. Even on this lonely island.”
Strife broke out on all sides, some contending for Zelehi and others for Hagoth, raising their voices louder and louder to be heard over each other. At last, Zelehi leapt into the center of the circle and bellowed for silence. The intense fury on his glistening face told everyone that it would be unwise to argue.
“Enough! I am joint captain of our vessel and I say that tomorrow, I will take all those who will follow me and begin the repairs. The rest of you are free to remain and perish with Hagoth and his glowing stones and his strange scribblings. If you are with me, bring your provisions and your families to the beach at first light. We will leave when the repairs are finished.” His eyes bored into each member of the group and they held their silence. “I will save us all,” he whispered.
He turned and strode away, drawing away a great portion of the group after him. The rest huddled around Hagoth, speaking frantically and asking him questions. Hagoth’s wife approached him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Look at us, Hagoth. Do you really think the Lord could make a prosperous nation out of us?”
Hagoth sighed and then smiled. “He brought up the entire nation of Israel from one family didn’t he? It’s not the most fertile spot of ground, but I think we’ll make good seeds.”
Hagoth embraced his wife and together they returned to their meager tent just outside the fire’s glow.
The next day dawned clear with the sun shyly peeking through the clouds after a long absence. When Hagoth awoke, fully a third of the camp was missing, presumably on the beach with Zelehi. The remainder went about the day as usual, though they tried to avoid mentioning the departed. In the evening they sent a party to the beach and found the ship gone.
When Hagoth settled into his tent that night, it took him much longer to fall asleep. When he did, the dreams that visited him were the most vivid he had ever encountered.
He saw their ship, a discolored patch filling the hole in its side tossed about in a violent storm. The waves spilled over it, eager to drag it down and swallow it. The ship struggled against the waves’ grasp, taking more water with each passing minute. Finally, a great wave capsized the ship and it vanished into the churning depths.
The nightmare, however, gave way to a strangely peaceful setting.
The helicopter circled the island and then turned inland. The pilot turned to his copilot. “Look for a spot where we can put ourselves down, as close to the quake site as possible.”
Moments later, the copilot nodded. “There’s a clearing at two o’clock. It’s practically on top of the site—close enough for the scientists to take their readings.”
The pilot took them down, and released the helicopter’s team of scientists.
As they approached the site, the earth rumbled, and a geyser shot from the ground, coating the vivid leaves with a fine mist. Once it subsided, the scientists moved cautiously forward again. One called out and gestured wildly, and he was soon joined by the rest. They rushed forward and clustered around the strangest sight that any of them have ever seen.
Near the earthquake’s epicenter stood an imposing stone monolith. The front surface was covered with a metal plate divided into three sections teaming with ancient looking characters.
The scientists took dozens of pictures and notes, all the while talking animatedly to each other, caught up in the excitement of the moment and the thrill of discovery.
The dream faded and Hagoth awoke. He starred into the darkness, trying to comprehend what he had just been shown. Finally, he decided that it would probably be some time before the meaning became clear. One thing, however, was certain. First thing tomorrow, he would return to the cave. He had a part in a great work to do, and whatever it was, he wanted to be ready.