Sirrea paused as she gathered sugarcane to marvel at the precision with which her father and Jacom, his new apprentice, toppled the evergreens. Even in the shade of the rain forest, Jacom’s dark hair and bare arms glistened with perspiration. Perhaps timber was a more strenuous trade than the cocoa bean business to which he was accustom in Gidion.
Jacom was just a year older than Sirrea’s sixteen years. Though they had been childhood friends until his family had moved eight years previously, he hadn’t spoken more than a few words to her since returning to Melek.
Jacom’s father Heth and Sirrea’s father Caleb had been partners in the lumber trade, harvesting logs from the dense forest and shipping them to the Land Northward by way of the West Sea. When Heth had taken his family to Gidion to care for his aging parents, he promised to send Jacom back when he was of age.
Jacom was a hard worker, to be sure but there was an air of defiance about him, real or imagined. Did he resent being sent away from his family to work for another, or did he dislike being thrust in with a family of believers in the prophecies of Samuel?
The rising opposition, as time for the fulfillment of the sign drew near, simmered like a pot on the verge of boiling over. As the believers looked anxiously for the day, night and day with no darkness, former friends turned against them. They mocked their supposed foolishness and uttered profane threats. The unbeliever’s anger was fueled that so many had believed the words of their enemy. Though there was currently peace with the Lamanites, they held deep prejudices against them. When some believed the words of Samuel, a Lamanite, as he stood on the walls of the capital city, Zarahemla, they felt betrayed.
Sirrea’s attention was drawn to a white bird with pink and red wings and legs. Its beak resembled a long handled spoon. As she admired the colorful bird, a flash of light glinted in the palm leaves behind it, like sunshine off of something metal.
A terrified scream rang through trees! “Ca-leb!”
It was her mother’s voice. Sirrea turned and ran toward their house. Her father and Jacom left the saw half way through the tree and followed her. Smoke was rising from their thatched roof. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered a shriek of pain.
Miriam, Sirrea’s mother was franticly scooping water from a cement cistern beside the door and throwing it desperately at the flames spreading toward the loft. With her small stature, she was only able to douse those closest to the roof’s sloping edge. Jacom leapt upon the cistern and with the aid of a nearby shade tree, swung onto the roof. Sirrea snatched a copper pot from inside the house, swiftly filled and handed it up to him.
They put the fire out quickly. “There is no structural damage but the roof will need to be thatched again before the rainy season,” Jacom called down.
With the fire out Miriam collapsed against the cistern and began to sob. Caleb took her gently into his arms, stroking her dark hair. “There, there, all will be right. Please, can you tell me how this happened?”
“Th-th-ree m-e-n ,” she stammered. “Painted as Lamanite warriors. They swung machetes and clubs. I thought they would kill me. They called me a filthy believer and said we would all die.” She pulled away, looked up into Caleb’s face, took a calming breath and continued. “One pulled the scarf from my hair and lit it in the cooking fire” She nodded toward the circular pit near the cistern, over which a pot was now steaming . “He threw it on the roof. When I screamed, they left.”
“My dear Miriam. How frightened you must have been.” He shook his head. “Lamanites, I don’t understand.”
“But they weren’t Lamanites. They were only dressed and painted as them.”
Sirrea, Jacom and Caleb all looked startled. “But why…who…” started Sirrea.
“They were Nephite,” Miriam continued, “and I recognized one.”
“Ohhhh….help….please.” The moan had come from the work area just thirty yards away, yet so faint it was nearly undetectable.
Sirrea suddenly remembered the shriek of pain she had heard a few moments before. Jacom started to run in the direction of the pitiful plea.
“Jacom! Stay with Miriam.” Caleb commanded. “Sirrea come with me.”
When she reached the work area, he was already kneeling next to a small boy. She quickly knelt beside him. He was Nephite, though a feeble attempt at a Lamanite disguise had been made. He was approximately ten and bleeding badly from a deep gash extending from the right side of his bare chest and across his upper arm. A blood tainted machete, lay at his side. The boy was moaning softly, his face milk white.
“Sirrea, run quickly and bring bandages.” She leapt up and ran but at the edge of the forest she was met by Jacom and her mother who had anticipated the need. Miriam carried a basket full of bulky cloth. The boy was close to unconsciousness with pain and blood loss. The lapse before he had been found was critical time lost. The boy’s only chance was to stop the blood pouring from the wound in his chest. Caleb took a large piece of cloth, and rolled it into a long pad. Then laying it over the wound, he placed his arm over the bandage and pressed.
Tears were streaming down Miriam’s face. Her hand covered her mouth and her eyes were closed. Sirrea knew she was praying. Tears were building in her own eyes as she tried to blink them away. Failing, she quickly brushed them with the back of her hand. She glanced at Jacom; their eyes met. He shook his head sadly, slowly. He didn’t think the boy was going to make it.
All three knelt down beside the boy. Miriam took the shawl off her own shoulders and placed it tenderly over the small body as best she could without interfering with Caleb’s work.
Jacom leaned close to the boy and spoke softly. “Can you tell us your name and your family?” he said, gently stroking the boy’s hair as he spoke. Sirrea recognized a tenderness in Jacom she had never imagined.
The boy struggled to speak “I…I am Da… Damar. …. tripped trying to… follow father…help him….my…father…”
It was just too much for him. His eyes closed and body became limp. Caleb put his ear next to the boy’s mouth and nose, feeling for air. “He is still breathing but it is very weak”
From what they could tell without removing the pad, the bleeding had finally subsided but he had already lost a dangerous amount. Caleb didn’t remove the pad but held it in place with long strips of cloth wrapped around the boy’s torso and arm. Caleb at the boy’s shoulders and Jacom at his legs, carried him to the house. Sirrea and her mother followed solemnly.
Once inside the house they carried him into the master bedroom and placed him on the bed. Caleb spoke, his face nearly ashen with foreboding. “I do not know the significance of the events of this day, but evil is stalking us. For now, we may only do what we can. I dare not leave Miriam alone to fetch a healer, nor send Sirrea alone. Jacom, I cannot require you to accompany her nor to stay in my employment under these circumstances. You may also be in danger. I can only request so with heavy heart.”
Jacom bowed slightly. “You have been fair and good to me. I would not abandon you at such a time. I will accompany Sirrea to bring the healer. Time only may tell of my continued employment.”
Caleb took a short sword from a hook on the wall and handed it to Jacom. “I pray you will not need this but…”
Jacom, nodded, took the sword and secured it with the braided sash around his waist. They slipped out of the house and hurried along the forest edge toward a line of business awnings that comprised Meleks’s business district. The sun was just beginning to set over the west hills. They passed displays of sugar cane, bananas, pineapple and other fruits. A heavy set man in a brown tunic with was just lowering the lattice awning over a display of copper jewelry and cooking pots. A wooden sign hung on the lower portion of the display. Healer, Inquire Within, was written in bold white lettering.
“Please,” began Sirrea, “are you the healer?”
“I am a copper merchant by necessity and a healer by choice, what might I do for you?” he said, reaching under the display for a bulging leather bag.
She quickly explained the accident and boy’s condition while Jacom peered around cautiously in the deepening shadows.
When they arrived at the house, it was nearly dark. Caleb was outside keeping watch. Sirrea, showed the healer into the master bedroom. Miriam was sponging the still unconscious boy’s face.
“Thank you for coming so quickly,” she said to the healer.
He nodded and stepped to the boy. After his initial examination, he shook his head slowly. “I am afraid he has lost too much blood. He will likely never awaken.”
Miriam and Sirrea both gasped. “Can nothing be done for him?” Miriam pled.
“I will close the wound, but do not expect too much. I am not a worker of miracles. I cannot extract the blood from the ground and pour it back into his veins.”
“We understand,” said Caleb from the door way. Do what you are able; we can only leave him in the hands of God.”
They watched in silence as the healer took a fine bone needle and a length of silk from his bag, threaded the needle and began stitching closed the gaping wound. They went into the cooking area near the entrance while the healer finished his work and talked softly.
“We must learn who this boy is. His family needs to be notified,” said Caleb.
“Yes, but how can we and not bring more evil upon us? He was painted as a Lamanite warrior the same as those who tried to burn the house. He must be from the unbelievers,” said Miriam in a near panic.
“And they outnumber us by many times,” Sirrea added.
Jacom had been sitting quietly looking from speaker to speaker. “Perhaps it is not my place to speak…”
“You are most welcome to speak Jacom. At least for now, I consider you part of this family.”
Jacom nodded appreciatively. “I believe they are right. If this boy is indeed the child of, what you term an unbeliever, he could well be the catalyst to ignite their full fury. Even though his injury was not our fault, they will they will use it for their purpose, however dark.”
The healer entered the room, bag in hand. “The wound is closed. He did not stir. The next twenty four hours will tell if he should live or die.” He looked at Caleb. “If you are a praying man, pray for a miracle, you will need it.”
“Are you then a believer?” asked Caleb. “Do you believe in the coming of the Messiah?”
“In the current emotional climate I dare not confirm nor deny that affiliation. I must be free to treat both the believer and unbeliever, which brings me to a point I must, for your sakes make.”
“What is it?” gasped Sirrea.
“I thought I recognized my young patient but it is now confirmed. He has a very distinctive scar which I remember stitching. He is the son of Nahor the silk merchant.”
All color drained from Miriam face. “No! Oh dear God of Abraham, no!”
“What is it my love?” asked Caleb grasping both of her trembling hands in his.
“Nahor is the man I recognized! The one that started the fire.”
“I am not surprised Nahor would do such a thing,” said the healer. “He is one of the most vocal of the unbelievers in Melek. I have done business with him and many times he has spouted his hateful rhetoric. As a healer I am obligated to inform him of his son’s whereabouts and condition but it will, no doubt, put your family at greater risk.”
“Would it risk the boy’s life further to transport him to another location?” questioned Caleb.
“I could not, in good conscience recommend it. If the bleeding starts again, he is finished.”
Caleb dropped his head into his hands and a sound of anguish escaped. “Please,” he said, “could you give us a little time to prepare before you inform him?”
“I have several families in need of my services in this area. I can only give you until I am finished, no more than three hours.”
“Understood and much appreciated,” said Caleb as he watched the healer walk out the door and into the night. “Let us pray for a miracle,” he said turning back toward the others.
When the prayer was concluded, a sudden thought entered Sirrea’s mind. “Father I have heard of miracles wrought by Nephi. Is it not he who baptized us?”
“Nephi, that baptized us after we heard the teaching of Samuel, has gone and no one knows where. Perhaps God took him unto himself, but his son Nephi is also a man of great faith, and stands in his stead.”
“Could we not summon this man if he be a worker or Miracles?” Asked Jacom.
Sirrea, Miriam and Caleb all looked curiously at Jacom. “You have said nothing of your beliefs. Do you also believe the words of Samuel?” asked Sirrea. “Your family was in Gideon at the time of his prophecy.”
“I know not the teachings of the Lamanite prophet, only what I have heard you speak of the impending sign. But I am a believer in the coming of the Messiah. The scriptures truly testify of him.”
“I am most happy at this news Jacom.” I have long hoped my friend Heth would share this belief,” said Caleb.
“In reality neither my father nor any of my family share my belief. I have studied in secret.”
“I am so sorry Jacom,” said Sirrea. “I did not know, but I honor your faith and bravery.”
He smiled sadly. “If I had been brave, my faith would not have been in secret. Now, how may we contact this man of faith?”
“His estate is near Zarahemla. There is not time to fetch him.”
“But father,” said Sirrea, “we must try. What other choice have we?”
Caleb put his fingers to his temples in deep thought. “We have prayed for a miracle. We should do all we can to bring it about. First we must warn your sisters’ families and the other believers in the area of the danger. If we band together we may be able to avoid bloodshed. If Jacom is willing to accompany you, you can alert the seven households along the main road on the way to Zarahemla. I will warn the households close enough to keep our house in sight and ask them to notify others they may know. We must act quickly. Take both horses. Make sure you are not followed.”
Miriam had an expression of concern. “Miriam, my dear, they should be more safe there than here. If not for the care of the boy, I should rather you go with them,” said Caleb.
“Oh course you are right. We must do something.” Quickly she stepped to the food pantry, wrapped an ample block of goat cheese and filled a leather pouch with various nuts. These she handed to Jacom, along with an empty water bag. “Fill this at the cistern.” She plucked a dark blue garment from a peg near the door and handed it to Sirrea. “Take my traveling cloak; it will keep you warm in the night air. Go now before more time is lost. I will tend to the boy.”
They had pushed the horses hard, along the moonlit road until stopping at the agreed upon spring.
Sirrea tried to keep her mind from what might be happening back at home. In less than an hour, Nahor would learn of his son’s accident. Was the boy still alive? Did he have a mother crazy with worry over her missing boy? It sickened her to think of his pale innocent face, and even more to think of the danger to her family, both brought on by the evil design of his father. Until she and Jacom had stopped to warn the families along the highway, she had assumed her family alone was the target of his hatred.
“You seem deep in thought Sirrea,” said Jacom as they waited for the horses to drink their fill. “I suppose it is no wonder, with all that has happened today.”
“I cannot understand hatred so strong as to burn crops, kill oxen, or make a home unfit for habitation.” A wolf bayed in the distance and Sirrea shuddered involuntarily. “When we were children the world was so right, or perhaps because we were children it only seemed right. Do you remember the gatherings, the games and dances on the rice terraces?”
“I do indeed. It is a fond memory, yet even then there was danger. The Gadianton Robbers raised havoc and began carrying away women and children. People stopped gathering for fear.”
Tears welled up in Sirrea’s eyes. “What is the world coming to Jacom?”
Taking her shoulders he turned her toward him. “Perhaps it is better we do not know the answer to that question,” he said softly. “We must put our trust in the coming Messiah. If your Lamanite prophet is right, it should be very soon.”
“But will it be soon enough? How long before the unbelievers start killing people?” She didn’t expect or wait for an answer. “What if the young boy dies and they kill my parents or even my sisters and their families?” She couldn’t keep the pain at bay any longer as the tremble in her voice transformed into racking sobs.
He pulled her into a hug and stroked the back of her raven hair. Her sobs quieted shortly. She pulled away and dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her mother’s traveling cloak. “Thank you. I’m usually not this emotional.”
“Very understandable….shh….horses are coming.”
“Oh no!” She whispered. They must have followed us. We have to hide.” She snatched up the rope and began leading her horse toward a nearby grove of trees.
“No, don’t worry.” He caught her arm. “They are coming from Zarahemla, not Melek.”
In silence they listened as the sound of hooves clattering along the pavement slowed and came to a stop. In the moon light, they could see a large white horse and two smaller dark horses, each with a rider.
“If memory serves me right,” said the rider of the white horse. “This is the location of a goodly spring.”
It was a deep but gentle voice and Sirrea felt the tension leave her body.
“Good thing brother. That nag of yours may be a bottomless pit, but my filly is plainly in need of nourishment and water,” said one of others affectionately.
Jacom must have also felt at ease. He stepped toward the horses. Catching sight of the two young people the third rider spoke. “Well, hello. We weren’t expecting to see anyone before reaching Melek. How do you come to be so far from civilization so late at night?”
The speaker was a young man, perhaps a few years older than Jacom, with sandy brown hair.
“We were traveling to Zarahemla with all speed but the horses needed water,” said Jacom.
By now the other two riders had dismounted and were bringing their horses toward the spring. “Whatever would require you to travel such a long distance in the dark?” Asked the rider of the white horse.
Sirrea glanced sideways at Jacom, wondering if she should answer and then burst out with it. “We are trying to reach the prophet Nephi! We are in great need of his help.”
A look of surprised pleasure crossed the rider’s face. “Then your mission is accomplished dear child. I am Nephi and this is my brother Timothy and my son Jonas,” he said indicating the young man. “What is the nature of your emergency?”
Sirrea’s mouth dropped open, unable to believe the remarkable coincidence. “But how…how…could you be here?”
“Tonight as I was sitting down for the evening meal, I received a clear impression that I was urgently needed in Melek. We left straight away.”
Tears of gratitude sprang to Sirrea’s eyes. Their prayer had been heard. If this wasn’t a miracle she couldn’t imagine one. Jacom’s face was aglow with wonder.
“Father,” said Jonas. “I will start a fire to discourage any aggressive jaguars while the horses rest and take nourishment.”
“Jaguars, I never even thought about Jaguars being here” Sirrea said.
“It is just a precaution,” said Timothy. “The horses need a few minutes rest before we can go on anyway.”
“Why don’t we sit around the fire and you can explain the situation which necessitated your journey,” said Nephi.
The trip from the watering hole back to Melek was fast paced but uneventful until they were ten minutes from the city where they slowed their exhausted mounts. They rounded a bend and could plainly see four structures in flames scattered thorough out the city. “Oh no! It must have already begun. Maybe the boy died and they have killed my family and are going after all the other believers!” cried Sirrea.
Jacom reached out and touched her arm. “Try not to panic Sirrea. Remember we have seen one miracle tonight. The Lord knows of the situation and he is in control.”
She smiled meekly. “Thank you for reminding me Jacom.”
“Trust on,” called Nephi ,” but we must press forward with all speed. Lead on.”
As they approached Sirrea’s house, a throng of angry people carrying clubs and torches were moving through the trees toward it from the opposite direction. Sirrea pulled her horse to an abrupt halt, jumped off, and flew into the house.
“Mother, Father! The mob is coming!”
The door to the bedroom flew open. “Sirrea, …what…how…,” Miriam stammered.”
People poured into the room including her father sisters and their families.
“Is this all the people you could gather?” asked Sirrea in near panic.”
“The others are trying to defend their own homes. The mobs have already…” began Caleb.
“Yes, we saw the burning houses. Father! Nephi is here! Is the boy alive?”
“Barely! We have been petitioning the Lord in prayer in our behalf as well as his.
Our lives may depend on his. Nephi, did you say? How can…”
“Never mind how! Nephi!”
“I am here,” said a voice from the door. “Lead on!”
Sirrea led Nephi by the arm toward the bedroom. “Please bless him and we will face the mob.”
The grim faced group, spilled outside. The mob had arrived. Nahor, was at the head. “Make no mistake wood cutter. If my son is dead, you and all of your family will die here and now.”
“He lives, but how long I cannot say.”
“Then we will take him from your house of foolish believers and leave you to your fate.” Nahor indicated the angry group behind him.” He and two club wielding associates started for the house.
“Stop!” called a voice from the back of the mob. The healer pushed his way through the crowd. “If you so much as move your son, before sun down tomorrow it will surely kill him.”
Nahor rent his tunic in frustration. “Then I will wait by his side, and these,” he indicated the mob, “will insure my safety.”
“How dare you think to enter this house,” shouted Timothy. “You, yourself have brought this upon your son when you assaulted this family.”
The mob cried out in rage, surging forward with vengeance. Rocks were hurled. The small group shrunk back. Sirrea screamed in horror as one rock after another struck Timothy. He staggered and fell, blood pouring from his head.
“Stop you fools! Not now!” shouted Nahor. “They will kill my boy.”
Nephi, appeared at the door, rushed to his brother and fell at his side.
“My brother, my brother, you have killed my brother!”
“What does it matter?” shouted an unknown voice. “Tomorrow at dusk all believes will die anyway. Let the word go forth, to Zarahemla, to all cities round about, if, ” he added with dog like snarl, “your pitiful sign has not come.”
A shout of sinister jubilation erupted. The mob began to dissipate. Nahor, now fearing the consequence of his interference kept an agonizing vigil from a distance.
The right side of Timothy’s skull had been crushed; his face wore the pallid mask of death. Sirrea shuddered in revulsion, tears streaming. Jacom put an arm around her and she buried her face in his chest. Jacom’s quick intake of breath brought her attention back to the scene. Nephi, still kneeling beside Timothy, had laid his hands upon his head and uttered words they could not hear. Suddenly, Timothy’s legs began to move; his chest rose with inhalation, color returned to his face. Nephi removed his hands; Timothy’s skull was whole! He took Timothy by the hand and raised him from the ground.
The group of believers still basked in the unbelievable miracle they had witnessed. One by one Timothy invited the children to his examine head. It was now late afternoon following the night of Timothy’s restoration to life. The group had slept wherever space permitted. Caleb’s house was the safest place for the time, Damar their temporary insurance against attack, safety for two hours more.
Nephi, torn between rushing back to his family and seeing things through here in Melek, had been in prayerful seclusion since mid morning. The other men were busy fashioning bows and whittling arrows.
Feeling a desperate need to do something Sirrea entered the bedroom where Damar slept. “Any change?” She asked her mother.
Before she could answer, Damar stretched his unwrapped arm above his head and yawned.
Sirrea and Miriam looked at each other in amazement. His eyes opened and confusion crossed his face. “Where is the man who called me from the edge of death?”
Sirrea ran to the door. “Father! Damar is awake.! He wants Nephi!”
The room erupted in a cheer of joy. “I am here,” said Nephi as he entered the house, his countenance radiant. “I would like to speak to the young patient alone if I might,” he said entering the bedroom.”
An hour they waited, tension building; it was nearing sundown. The door opened and Damar walked out. Nephi followed with a hand on his shoulder. Nephi bent down and whispered in his ear.
“I understand what is happening. I will remain here as long as you need me. Could I have something to eat, please?” Damar said.
Miriam sat Damar at the table and promptly set about preparing a bowl of fresh fruit.
Nephi patted Damar gently on the back and turned to the others. “God bless each of you. You can deliver the boy to his father after sundown. Come Timothy and Jonas. It is time we depart.” He strode to the door.
Timothy and Jonas, vaguely confused, bid farewell and followed Nephi.
Mouths dropped . “Deliver him after sundown! Once the sky begins to darken, they will attack!” Sirrea shrieked.
“I also am at a loss,” said Jacom, “but after the miracles I have witnessed at his hand I cannot doubt his word.” The group nodded in agreement.
“Again I am humbled by your wisdom,” Sirrea answered softly.
“Let us pray and we will string our bows and wait at the ready,” instructed Caleb.
The mob had gathered at the forest edge, waiting, “What is the meaning,” said
a burly club holder. “The sun has gone beyond the horizon near an hour, yet it is light as noonday.”
“You’re mistaken; a cloud must be blocking it,” said another.
“He is not mistaken. I have carefully monitored the sun. Even if my calculation is wrong, it would not explain the brightness,” said a third.
A sense of confusion had taken hold of the mob. “Look! Look in the sky!” Someone shouted. All eyes turned upward. There shone a blazing star lighting the sky as noonday sun. The realization of the sign of the Messiah’s coming struck with such force many fell to the ground with the guilt of what they had been about to do. The remainder fell to their knees voluntarily and cried for mercy.
Into the brightness of the holy night walked Caleb and Miriam with Damar between them as family and friends watched. From the back of a would be mob, came forward a very contrite Nahor accompanied by a tearful mother. Nahor fell at Caleb’s feet. “How can you ever forgive me?”
“On a night so glorious, how could we not forgive, my friend?” Caleb reached down, grasped Nahor’s hand and lifted him. “Perhaps to bond our friendship, next week we can thatch my roof.”
Jacom took Sirrea’s hand looked tenderly into her brown eyes. “I will be leaving your father’s employment for a time.”
“But why now? The danger is past.”
“I will be back, I promise but I believe now is the time to share my faith with my family.”