by Wm Morris
Gideancum, the youngest son of Pahoran the First, quietly nestled further into the dried maize piled up in the portico of a large storehouse just inside the southern wall of the city of Zarahemla. The Lamanite soldiers with their torches and cimeters swarmed like angry hornets through the streets of the city. They had appeared out of nowhere in the night, surprising and making short work of the guards at the main city gate. They had stormed through the streets, killing any who did not immediately bow down and ask for mercy. Some Nephites had fled the city, slipping out through secret ways in the confusion, but the Chief Judge Pacumeni, his older brother, had been too surprised to rally his household and make any sort of defense and too confused to think of the secret ways or some other clever plan. So they had all run for the back gate, the few household guards bringing up the rear. Growing up, Gideancum had listened to the stories of Captain Moroni and his chief captains. Sometimes he had even heard them told from the great men themselves. He had memorized every battle, every tactic, every trick. He knew a panicked retreat was a recipe for disaster and so, as the Chief Judge Pacumeni, his older brother, rushed through the chaotic streets of Zarahemla, Gideancum stole away and found this hiding place amidst the maize.
He doubt his absence had been noticed. Although he was 15 and almost a man, Gideancum was small of stature and, as the youngest of the many sons of Pahoran, he was also the least important. No one had put his name up for election. No one had approached him with whispered promises of power. Not that it mattered. Gideancum was strongly devoted to his older brothers, in spite of their many faults and frequent arguments. He had been raised by them and their wives. Moroni had called him Gideancum the boy of many parents, the son of liberty. It was a jest, of course. But he had fiercely embraced the designation. At age 7, he had memorized the words of the title of liberty. At age 9, he had taken to lecturing the others on the virtues of Mosiahic form of government and the problems with monarchy. His father had counseled him to be more diplomatic in his politicking. The next time he had seen Moroni, he had asked him about that particular piece of advice. Moroni had said, "If I had been more diplomatic, the title of liberty would not now be flying over the cities of the land -- but you should listen to your father. There may come a time when diplomacy serves you better than courage and might."
Captain Moroni had been one of the few of his father's circle who would taken the time to talk to him. He had also been one of the few willing to tell him stories of his mother. Gideancum's heart twinged amidst its heavy pounding. Not for the first time, he wished that his mother had not died bringing his spirit in to this world. He knew that it was only her mortal body that was dead and that her spirit lived on and would someday be restored in glory forever. But a mother who was a spirit was small comfort to a boy whose father and siblings had been constantly preoccupied with governing the land.
Now, his only thought was to survive the marauding Lamanites. It was dark in this part of the city. Gideancum hoped that the storehouses and workshops would escape the attention of the blood-maddened Lamanite soldiers. The trick, though, would be in getting out of the city. He hoped that they would finish their foul work well before dawn so that he would still have the cover of darkness.
The maize had just been harvested and dried. Its sweet earthy smell filled his nostrils. He sank in further, leaving only his eyes and nose exposed to the air. The shouts and cries and clashing of metal had been far away when he had selected this spot, but now they seemed closer. Then he heard footsteps and the Chief Judge Pacumeni, his older brother, limped in to view. His robes of office were torn and spattered with blood. Only two of his household guards remained to protect him. They were bleeding from many wounds.
Gideancum dared not cry out.
In his haste, Pacumeni tripped. He reached out his hand to steady himself against the city wall. The guards rushed to help him, but the split second pause was all their pursuers needed. Several Lamanite soldiers appeared, surrounded the trio, and disarmed the guards. One of them yelled out, "Coriantumr!"
A large man, one of the largest Gideancum had ever seen, strode in to view. He wore the war paint and gold armbands of a Lamanite chief captain even though his face and hair marked him as a Nephite. In one hand he held a massive war club as easily as if it were a stick. He swung it lightly as he walked. The Lamanite soldiers parted so their leader could approach Pacumeni, who fell to his knees, his hands clasped, pleading. Gideancum couldn't hear what his brother was saying. Coriantumr laughed. His voice was deep and bitter. He gestured for Pacumeni to rise and turned as if to leave. Pacumeni stood. In one fluid motion, Coriantumr spun around and smote Pacumeni's chest with his club. Gideancum watched silently as Pacumeni was lifted off his feet by the blow and thrown back against the wall. Coriantumr turned and walked back towards the sounds of war. The soldiers picked up Pacumeni's body, bound the two remaining guards and followed.
Gideancum dared not move. Growing up, he had been fascinated by tales of war. Now, seeing the stories made real, his respect for Moroni and Teancum and Helaman's stripling sons grew. He felt sadness over the loss of his brother. But he also felt other things. Shame over his helplessness to prevent what had just happened. Anger over the Nephite army's inability to prevent the taking of Zarahemla. And most of all -- hate for this Nephite traitor Coriantumr. Revenge crept in to his heart.
When he was sure that no Lamanites were near, Gideancum emerged from the pile of maize. He could think of no means of escape. He scooped several handfuls of maize up with his shirt and stole in to the storehouse.
For the next day and night, Gideancum lived in the storehouse. He gnawed on the dried kernels of maize and scurried out after dark to drink water from a nearby puddle. Other than his clothes, his only possession was a beaded bag containing a gold ring set with an emerald that had belonged to his mother.
Gideancum brooded over his situation. The hours passed by as if a dream. He began to develop elaborate plans to wreak his revenge on Coriantumr. No one knew the chief judge's complex like he did. No one had had the combination of free reign and free time that he had had. Spying on meetings and discovering hidden or out-of-the-way places and passages had been his primary pasttime and education. Not only that, but he knew where Helaman kept the relics and sacred possessions. He had been shown them once and had stolen in to look at them at other times. Helaman was not in the city, having left on one of his frequent missions several weeks before. Gideancum could sneak in to his study, take the sword of Laban from its hiding place, and... For some reason, his mind could only flash from the taking of the sword to the moment of glory when his remaining brothers and the Nephite chief captains would raise their voices in unison to praise his victory. Such glory tantalized him, tempted him. It begin to ring incessantly in his mind. But he found himself too scared and uncertain to carry out his plans. The feelings of shame grew. As did the raging desire for revenge.
On the morning of the second day, Gideancum heard movement outside the storehouse. He quickly hid himself deep in the far corner behind a large basket.
A Nephite entered and began looking in the baskets and jars in the storehouse. Many of them were empty, waiting to be filled with the dried maize outside. Gideancum prayed in his head, his lips barely moving. He didn't know if he wanted to be found by this Nephite man or not. He prayed that God would provide the best outcome. He prayed he would not die. And in his praying, realized that he hadn't prayed since before the Lamanite attack. When the man got to the back of the storehouse, he paused, and then turned and walked out. Gideancum let out a deep breathe. He stayed hidden. He didn't know what to do now. Would the man come back? Most likely. It was clear that he had been inventorying the contents of the storehouse. If he came back, should he try to talk to him? His mind was confused, but something told him to stay put. So he did.
About 15 minutes later, two men -- both dressed as Nephites -- stepped in to the storehouse. One of them was the man from before. The other man picked up a jar and carried it outside. The first man walked directly towards Gideancum. He crouched in front of the basket. "Little man," he whispered. "I know who you are. It came to me all at once as I saw the top of your head. You are one of the Chief Judge's sons." Gideancum turned his head slightly, but did not look at the man. "Do not say anything," said the man. "Do not move. It does not matter if you are or not, God has led me to you, and I will help you be free. I am going to leave now and make sure our new Lamanite masters do not come in. Climb in to the basket and make yourself small." The man picked up two smaller baskets and took them outside.
Gideancum climbed in to the basket. He wasn't sure if he was doing so out of faith or fear or because his desire for revenge was making him reckless. He curled up and hoped that these men knew what they were doing. A short while later, the basket was lifted and carried and set down. The coming down part just felt like an inch or two so it seemed likely that it had been placed in a cart or sledge. The top of the basket came off and before Gideancum could look up, a small blanket was pushed down around him and he heard and felt maize fall over the blanket. He heard talking, some of it harsh and loud, but the shape of the words were muffled. And then he felt motion. It was slow but steady. The sounds of feet and male voices and animals were soon all around him. Gideancum fell asleep.
When he woke up, his body was stiff and sore, his throat raw and tight. Thankfully, not too long afterward, he heard the lid of the basket come off. A hand grasped a corner of the blanket. Gideancum was pulled from the basket. It was a very dark night. He could not see. He was carried for many yards and then placed carefully in a small hollow in the ground that was well hidden by tall grass. A skin of water was thrust in his arms. A blanket was thrown over him again. The man who had carried him bent and whispered, "Drink and recover. You must not leave this hiding place until well after dawn. It is now just two hours after dark. The moon will not be bright tonight so if you stay still and have luck, you will not be noticed. May God be with you." The man walked back the way they had come.
Gideancum slowly, carefully stretched his arms and legs. He drank from the skin. And then waited. At some point during the night he slept again. When dawn came he stayed hidden. He knew that supply wagons generally traveled close to the back so assuming they broke camp at dawn and resumed the march, they should be well away from his position soon. When the sun rose higher in the sky, he ventured his head up out of the hollow. He could see no one. He stood up and surveyed the landscape. It was familiar to him. He was half a day's journey north of Zarahemla. He wanted to track the army, wanted to keep his enemy close, but he had no food. There was a small village close to the west that had been established to serve the shepherds and their families who tended the flocks that supplied much of the city's wool and meat. He finally entered the village at mid-afternoon. It was strangely silent. The street was empty. He decided to search the nearest home. The door was already broken in, the place ransacked. Clearly, Coriauntumr knew of the village and had sent a raiding party.
He finally found them in the next to last house. They were alive, hidden in a cellar. Just the women, children and old people. One of the women explained that they had seen the army from afar. The men had told the women to hide and had gone to warn other villages and rally defenders to slow the Lamanite's progress. No one had expected them so deep in Nephite territory. Later that evening the few would-be defenders who had survived the slaughter returned, joyous to see their loved ones had not been found, sorrowful over their brethren who did not return with them, frustrated and scared by their powerlessness in the face of such an overwhelming threat to the land.
Gideancum felt sorry for those who had gone the way of all the earth even though he also thought they had been foolish to throw away their lives in such pathetic defenses. Better to retreat or hide. Only an army of close to equal size to Coriantumr's could face it on an open battlefield. Not for the first time that day, he wondered where the Nephite army was and how its captains could leave the land so defenceless. To let the Lamanites strike the very center of the land. It was a major tactical blunder. Chief Captain Moroni would never have allowed such a thing.
When the mourning was done, Gideancum approached the men. He told them who he was and questioned them about the Lamanite army -- the direction it had been heading, the number of troops, how fast they seemed capable of traveling and how much distance they put between the main body of the soldiers and their supply wagons. Their answers were confused. They did not seem to trust him. He took his mother's ring from the bag around his neck and showed it to them. He claimed to be representing his brother and said he had been returning from a secret mission when the Lamanites attacked Zarahemla. The lie did not bother him. He was only driven by his vow to revenge himself upon the Lamanite leader. He told them that their only hope now was to gather as much information as possible on the Lamanites and make sure that the Nephite army became aware of the invasion and was on the march. The men talked quietly amongst themselves. Then they went and talked to their wives and mothers.
One of them returned and said, "We will help you. Sleep tonight, and you will have more answers tomorrow. My name is Amnor. I am sorry we doubted you at first."
The next morning, a few of the men had returned with others residents of the area. Gideancum collected information from each of them indvidually and in private, carefully questioning them to make sure they were not exaggerating or holding something back. He had nothing to write with but as he sorted through the details, he developed a picture in his head. After the initial round of interviews, Gideancum sought out Amnor and told him they needed to get closer to the Lamanite army and collect better information. Amnor agreed. The two of them traveled north.
By afternoon, they had found more failed defenders of the land who had managed to not be cut down by Lamanite swords. After debriefing them, Gideancum calculated that they were about half a day away from the Lamanite army. He also figured that the army would need to camp tonight in order to not outrun its supply train. He told Amnor to send any men away who weren't willing to risk their lives for they were going to press ahead and get as close to the Lamanites as possible. A few men left; four stayed, including Amnor.
Just before dusk, they caught up with the Lamanite army, which was beginning to set up camp. Luckily, they were camping in a large, shallow valley, which meant Gideancum and his men had the cover of a low, lightly forested hill. As torches began to be lit in the camp below, Gideancum identified what was likely the main command tent. In whispers, he asked them help him sneak in to the camp later that night and kill Coriantumr. It suddenly occurred to him to ask about weapons. Between them, they only had two knives, several slings and a small axe. As they examined their weapons and quietly discussed the details of the plan, there was a sudden crackle of movement. Gideancum and his men looked up -- they were surrounded by soldiers with drawn swords and bows. The men dropped their weapons. One cried out. The soldiers hushed them. They were Nephites. Gideancum started to say something, but a hand was put over his mouth. He and his men were marched south by the Nephite soldiers for quite some time before their leader stopped and questioned them. Gideancum explained that they had been gathering information on the Lamanite army and that he had important things to discuss with their commanding officer. He did not mention the plan to kill Coriantumr.
The leader explained that they were scouts attached to the army of Captain Moronihah. He said that he would be happy to relay any information they had to his commanding officer. Gideancum refused. He said that he would only report to Captain Moronihah. This news was met with laughter. Gideancum insisted. He explained who he was. He showed them his mother's ring. He intimated that he had secret information that only Moronihah should know. He would not have his chance for revenge stolen from him. Not when he was this close. Not when the arrival of the Nephite army opened up new possibilities.
In the three hours it took for the Nephite scouts and Gideancum and his recruits to travel to the Nephite camp, Gideancum wheedled and bargained and finally got the captain of the scouts to agree to give a message to Captain Moronihah. He waited another hour in the camp before a soldier came and escorted him to the chief captain's tent and led him inside.
Moronihah sat in a large wooden chair covered with animal skins. He did not rise when Gideancum entered. He looked tired. Nevertheless, he smiled warmly, and said:
"Gideancum. I'm happy to see that you live. I am sorry about what happened to your brother. I hear you have news for me."
"Thank you, Chief Captain Moronihah," said Gideancum. He had had time to think about this conversation and had decided to speak from a position of authority and strength. "It has indeed been a sad time for me, but as I'm sure you have been informed, I have not wallowed in grief or fear, but have boldly and cleverly acted to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Lamanite army. I deeply appreciate you taking the time to see me. I know you are very busy although I am not certain why you are not now on the march to engage the Lamanites. They are weary from their fast travels and overconfident by their easy success so far. But that does not matter. Far be it for me to counsel you in the art of making war. I have only come to ask you a favor for I have a bold plan that will provide you a great advantage on the field of battle and that I am certain I can carry out. Grant me this one boon and you will prove the respect you have for my family and the memory of my father and brothers, and in return, I will ensure your victory over the Lamanites. Indeed, I was just about to carry this plan out when your scouts interrupted me and my men and brought us here."
Moronihah sighed. "What is it you desire to do?"
"Provide me with a small, fast-traveling escort. I will scout and infiltrate the Lamanite army's camp, my escort will silently take care of the guards, I will enter his tent and drive a javelin through Coriantumr's heart just like my name-progenitor Teancum did to Ammoron," Gideancum said.
"Your name-progenitor. Or, more precisely, your half name-progenitor was killed because he was foolish enough to let wrath cloud his judgement," was the reply.
"He died in glory! He was revenged upon the Lamanites and sent their army in to disarray! I only seek the same revenge!"
"And even in their disarray, many died on both sides in the battle that followed." Moronihah sighed again. "You know as well as I do, that cutting off the head does no good. It is, at best, only a short-term solution. A new Lamanite military leader always arises in the previous one's place and agitates them to war against us anew."
Upon hearing this Gideancum grew angry.
"You talk to me of short-term solutions when an army ravages the land? Any solution is better than none! And since we seem to be debating war strategies: how could you allow an entire army to strike at the very center of the land? Why, now that you are aware of the situation, have you set up camp? Why are you not pursuing Coriantumr and wreaking upon him the destruction he and his army deserve? Need I remind you of the words of your own father? Why sit you here upon your throne of stupor?"
At these words, Moronihah's guards move to restrain the boy, but the chief captain waved them off. "You speak boldly, but do you possess more than zeal? If we would discuss strategy, then let's hear first your report on the situation. You say you have gathered information -- let's have it. What happened in Zarahemla and what can you tell me of this Coriantumr?"
Gideancum's mind was flooding with words and emotions. He tried to think of how he should handle the situation. Part of him wanted to continue to rant, to let out all that he felt inside, but when he cleared that part of him away, he found a stronger part of his will, the part that had been forged all those years by his father and his brothers and all the men and women who had had a part in raising him, servants and leaders, merchants and diplomats, prophets and warriors. He closed his eyes for just a second and conjured up the mural he had been creating in his mind, and then he related all that had happened to him and all that he had found out from others. Drawing upon his experiences with the language of councils, he spoke with clarity, marking carefully which pieces of information were absolute fact, which were probably correct and which were mere speculations. He reported estimates of troops size, supply chains, and time lines. He discussed the effects of the resistance. He even ventured to speculate on the motivations of Coriantumr, his ultimate objectives and where the weaknesses in his strategy lay.
When he was done, Moronihah said: "Well done. This information is of use to me and you have proven yourself a capable son of liberty."
Gideancum smiled for the first time in days. He felt a burden lift from his shoulders. But revenge was still in his heart. Moronihah gestured for him to step forward. He did.
"I cannot grant you your boon, but I would like to make a pact with you, Gideancum son of Pahoran." Gideancum stood very still, unsure of where this was going. "I will promise you that I will slay this Coriantumr, drive his army from Nephite lands and retake Zarahemla, if you will promise me that you will not do anything foolish and that you will act as one of my message runners in the days ahead. What say you?"
"I will do my best, Captain Moronihah," came the sullen reply. His revenge had been torn from his hands, but he knew there was nothing he could do. He was too small, too young and commanded no troops.
"Good," Moronihah said. "I assure that all will be made clear in the day ahead. You are dismissed. Eat; sleep. You will need fresh legs if you are to serve me tomorrow."
The next morning, Gideancum was instructed in his duties as a message runner by a young man only a few years older than him. He was then introduced to each of Moronihah's captains, who quizzed him on the passcodes, military terms and names he would need to know. Gideancum recited everything perfectly and was gratified to see their skepticism quickly turn to grudging approval of this late addition to the ranks. The army moved out slowly, and it was not until early afternoon that they reached the hills surrounding the valley where the Lamanites had camped the night before. Coriantumr and his men were no longer there. The Nephites began to take positions along the hills and down their gentle slopes. Detachments were sent to the east and west to hide. Gideancum was stationed next to Moronihah at the top of the highest hill and was kept busy running back and forth with messages to tighten up lines or reorder the positions of archers and throwers.
At around mid-afternoon, Moronihah began to show signs of restlessness as did his troops. Gideancum felt itchy and sick with anticipation. As he looked out across the sea of Nephite soldiers, he was suddenly struck by how many of them could die. And then he realized how close he had been to sacrificing himself and the naive men he had recruited. He was not a soldier. He was not a Gideon or a Teancum. He resented this realization. It was yet another reminder of his youth and inexperience. It wasn't fair. And part of him still thought that there had been a slight chance that he could have succeeded. But at the same time, he knew that he had been blinded by his lust for revenge. Suddenly, there was a shout as a mass of men crested the hill on the other side of the hill. They carried no banners, but it was clear that this was a remnant of Coriantumr's army. They streamed over the hill and then, almost as one, they paused as they saw the army waiting for them on the other side of the valley. They did not turn to run. Driven on by their captains, they surged forward hoping to break through the Nephite lines.
Captain Moronihah gave the signal and the horns blared. His men moved forward to meet their foes on the field of battle. Arrows, stones and javelins began to fly and soon the air was filled with battle cries, dust and the sound of swords and clubs. The detachments on the flanks quickly poured in from the east and the west to cut off any hopes of retreat in those directions. And then the banners of the other Nephite army appeared and all was suddenly made clear to Gideancum. Moronihah had them surrounded. The Lamanite incursion would end in this valley. One of the Nephite captains gave Gideancum a message. He ran to deliver it. When he returned, Moronihah and his honor guard were no longer there. He looked out across the valley. The Nephite chief captain was leading a charge towards the center of the Lamanite army. Gideancum knew that if Coriantumr still lived, that that's where he would be with his chief captains and leaders. Moronihah fought like how Gideancum had always imagined Captain Moroni had fought. How he had always imagined that he himself would one day fight. The Lamanite chief captains and leaders were soon overrun. The rest of the Lamanites quickly surrendered. It was exhilarating, but also sobering. God had been on their side. They had won. But many men had died.
Later, Gideancum was called to Moronihah's tent. The Nephite chief captain did not rise to greet him. He sat in his chair, his garments and armor stained with sweat, dust and blood. There was a faraway look in his eyes.
"You performed well, today, young Gideancum," he said, hoarsely. "You fulfilled your side of the pact. And I ... I fulfilled mine. Coriantumr is dead. You have your revenge."
Gideancum did not know what to say. It was what his heart had desired. But no longer. His revenge had bled out along with the lives of his fallen comrades. His brave fellow citizens and believers. They had given their lives for their God, their religion, their peace, their wives, and their children. If you are to shed blood, it must only be for a just cause and only if you are willing to lay down your life for its sake. This was the price of liberty. He was now willing to pay it himself one day.