When the angel departed, Nephi collapsed onto the woolen rug that he used for a bed, exhausted, but filled with joy. He lay there in the darkness for quite some time and reviewed the instructions he had been given: Go down to the land of first inheritance. Seek out Samuel. And then travel with the Lamanite prophet to the sea.
Hallelujah! He whispered to himself, imagining the scene which he had beheld in vision. Just as Samuel had promised—a night without darkness. He had always believed Samuel, but now he had foreseen the wondrous celestial event for himself. The thought of it made him tremble with an involuntary shiver. He wondered where he would be on the night when the sign would be given.
But am I really able to go? Leaving a comfortable, yet modest home, especially at Nephi's age, seemed at first to be a completely ludicrous call to adventure. The long journey would take months, perhaps even years. And the privations he might have to endure could make the recent famine look tame in comparison. But the more he thought about it, the easier the decision became. Yes! I will go. And blessed be the name of God for allowing me to!
Chuckling to himself, Nephi rose from his bed, lit an oil lamp, and began to stuff belongings into two packs, balancing the weight between them. While he worked, he again mused over the details of the vision which had been presented to him by the heavenly messenger. Although he had not been shown the entire expedition, remembering the brief glimpses of a journey across the sea, and forests, and deserts, now brought to mind other things which he might need. He retrieved a knife, cords for snares, a bundle of healing herbs wrapped in a cloth, and few items for cooking.
After tightly rolling his bedding and tying it with leather thongs, he looked about the hut and saw nothing else of worth. The items on his sturdy table were the only exceptions. He stepped over to his chair and sat, then sorted through the items there, placing them into two piles.
The first pile was very large. It contained both the Plates of Brass for which his forefather—who had also been called by the name of Nephi—had returned to Jerusalem to obtain, and also several sets of plates of gold, each set bound with metal rings in the same fashion as the famous record. These, with another family heirloom—a well worn but recently sharpened copper stylus—would all be given to his eldest son, the one who carried his own name.
The second, much smaller pile consisted of a penknife for sharpening quills, three stoppered bottles of colored ink, and a stiff roll of bark paper. These he would take on his journey. Not forgetting Timothy, his other son, Nephi decided that Timothy would inherit the rest of his personal effects. The two brothers could then sell his estate and split the proceeds.
Satisfied that he had made his preparations—hasty as they were—he went last of all to the stone hearth at the end of his oblong shaped residence. Taking up the hand shovel from his tinder bucket, he carefully pried up a massive flagstone and slid it sideways to reveal a cemented granite box beneath. Using the shovel again, he cleared the dust which had fallen, then proceeded to move all of the precious records from the table, back to their normal storage location.
The previous evening he had been reading the prophecies of Samuel, which he had meticulously recorded five years earlier. I am sure that is why the angel came, Nephi mused as he laid the stylus with the records at the bottom of the stone box. It always seemed to work that way. Nephi's greatest insights or revelations typically came after a period of study and meditation. Out of habit, he closed his eyes and offered up a prayer of thanks. A calm feeling, full of purpose, enveloped him. He smiled.
Nephi retrieved one of two coin purses from the stone repository, leaving the other for his sons. He then replaced the flagstone and used the shovel to move and pack the dirt floor of his hut back into the cracks like mortar. Skilled at making the floor look like normal foot traffic around the hearth, when he was done the seam had totally disappeared, the flat rock appearing to have been there for decades. After brushing the dirt from the shovel, he worked the blade into the ashes of the fire-pit to blacken it once again, then dropped it into the tinder bucket.
He grunted with effort as he stood, his knees stiff and his back aching. He rubbed out the sore spots, looking towards his door where he could now see the dim light of early dawn peeking underneath. Eager to go visit his sons, both of whom had their own families, he left the hut in search of his horse. Finding the animal in the usual corner of the property, he brought it back to the hut, strapped his packs and bedroll onto its back, and then temporarily tied the horse to a post.
One more thing before I go, he thought. Nephi walked towards the shoulder-high, stone wall which marked the limit of his property. His small farm, right on the edge of Zarahemla, bordered the highway which went into the market. As he approached the wall, he listened for sounds coming from the road. He could only discern the creaking of a single cart in the distance. Too early for most travelers, he guessed. Following the wall toward the edge of the property, he breathed deeply, enjoying the air scented with dew and waking flowers. When he arrived at the garden, he ascended the ladder which led up to his watchtower.
Many years ago, he had built it for his dear wife so that she might be able to better enjoy the sunset after spending time in the garden. And ever since her passing, it had become Nephi's favorite place to meditate and pray. Bracing himself on the railing, he gazed over the city and saw the plumes of smoke from morning meals rise from brightly colored rooftops, every tiled surface now starting to brighten in the first rays of the new day.
So many memories here. A lump rose in his throat.
Nephi thought back to the day in which a crowd had gathered, all of them wondering why he was pleading to God for the people and their welfare. He shook his head. How many times had he preached to them? And yet, they would not hear him. Even after prophetic declarations concerning their chief judge, and the judge's brother, and the destructions which awaited them should the people not repent, very few listened.
He shook his head again, saddened. A tear rolled down his cheek. Thousands suffered and many of them died in the famine which had followed his experience upon the tower on that difficult day. What good did their gold do them in the days of their hunger?
But God had been merciful. When Nephi prayed, the famine abated. And then God sent another messenger so that there might be a second witness. Samuel came. But the people chased him away. When Samuel got upon the wall, they tried to kill him. The Lamanite prophet delivered his message and fled.
Nephi had written Samuel's words, then had preached to the believers once again. Some repented. Many did not. He did not have to wonder why the Nephites were so hard-hearted. They had allowed secret societies to infiltrate the government to its highest levels. They had come to love property more than anything else. They had forgotten God.
He sighed. Knowing that it would be a very long time until he returned—perhaps he would never return—Nephi prayed. After giving thanks for the lot he had drawn, he stood and looked upon the city which he had anguished over for so many years. Other prophets will come, he thought. My son Nephi will preach to them. So will Timothy. I pray my sons will be preserved.
With that, he left the tower and returned to his hut. Leading his horse out of the gate in the direction of Timothy's residence, Nephi never looked back.
“It is good to see you my brother!” Nephi said as he took Samuel into a firm embrace then released him.
“And you! How are your sons?”
“They are well. Their families are growing. The Lord has blessed them. And yourself?”
“My wife and daughter are well, and so am I.” Samuel paused. A serene look crossed his face. “I know why you have come.”
Nephi nodded, his own expression now serious. “Gabriel said he would prepare you for my arrival. Have you decided?”
Samuel's eyes misted. “Yes. We will come. My wife and daughter have already packed our things. I was commanded to bring them with me.” His gaze fell, but after a moment he looked straight into Nephi's eyes, his lips pursed. “It pains me to leave my people. I love them, Nephi. And I fear there are dark days ahead for them. With the Gadiantons becoming ever stronger, it will take the efforts of both of our peoples to defeat them.”
Nephi let out his breath slowly, staring off into the distance. “Yes. I have seen it too. But for me it is time to leave the preaching to others . . . others who are younger, even if it means I may not be able to walk back home when I am done. I am old, Samuel.”
The much younger Lamanite patted his arm. “The God of Israel will go before us. You will be made strong.”
Nephi smiled, grateful for his friend's confidence. But then he frowned. “I have nothing to bring.”
“Do not worry. We are to go as witnesses. God will provide an offering.”
Reminded of father Abraham, Nephi nodded, smiling once again. “Yes, Samuel. You are right. God will provide.”
It was unbearably hot when the foursome left the thick jungle and stepped onto a steep and rocky beach, their horses towing behind. Their journey to the western sea had been fraught with difficulty, but Samuel's wife and daughter—a youth of fifteen years—had never complained. And now as they stood there together, their goal in sight, Nephi marveled at their cheerfulness. Never once had he regretted having them come along. In fact, their daily meals had been far better prepared than they might have been without the two women.
Samuel pointed to a rise up ahead and with eager haste, they all pressed on. It did not take them long to climb the hill and look down into the beautiful cove below. Winded from the ascent, Nephi's aches and pains fled from him as he gazed upon the grand vessel moored in the deep lagoon.
Double-hulled with a huge central platform supporting a modest living space, and a triangular sail lashed to a single mast, the boat was the largest sea-worthy vessel Nephi had ever set his eyes on. Standing upon the platform was a giant of a man, dark from many days at sea, and girded about the waist in a finely woven, colorful wrap which reached past his knees. The man caught sight of them and called them down with a wave, his speech heavy with accent but still understandable. The man untied a small canoe from the back of the ship and deftly paddled it to meet them at the shore. He sloshed through the water and onto the sandbar, grinning from ear to ear.
“I am Kahoku, son of the great ship builder!” The large man then stepped forward, leaned into Nephi's face, and breathed deeply. “Welcome, my brother!”
Unsure at first, Nephi returned the greeting. Kahoku smiled wide, and then greeted Samuel, his wife, and his daughter in the same manner.
“I have been expecting you. This is my home. My home is now your home. Please, come!”
One by one, Kahoku ferried them and their belongings to the ship. At first, Nephi was reluctant to bid his pack animal goodbye. The horse had served him well for several years. But with no room on the ship, he released the animal, setting it free. Someone would find it, he was certain. Nephi was the last to leave the beach.
Once aboard, they did not speak of how Kahoku had known to meet them there, but spent the remainder of the afternoon eating a meal and arranging their belongings in the small cabin in preparation for departure. Kahoku had amply stocked their sea-worthy home, and so Nephi felt immensely more comfortable with the idea of a long ocean voyage. As evening approached, the weather was perfect, with enough of a breeze to get them started on their way, so Kahoku pulled up his anchor, and they were off.
Crossing the gap in the reefs was quite rough, and Nephi thought he would be sick, but they quickly settled into a steady run upon the gentle sea, and the ill feelings left him. They traveled for a couple of hours, and then once darkening skies caused the stars above to glitter brightly, their captain lowered the sheet for the night so that they might drift as they slept. Exhausted, Nephi slept well upon his swaying hammock within the cabin, not stirring until the pink traces of an approaching dawn caressed the horizon.
When he awoke, he found everyone still asleep except for Kahoku who was on the deck studying the stars while making adjustments to the boom and sail.
“You slept well?”
“Yes,” Nephi replied.
Kahoku went to the tiller and began to direct the ship in a more southerly direction. “The seas will be kind today, and the breath of the wind, light.” The large man studied Nephi for a moment. “Samuel told me of your concerns before he retired last evening.”
“Concerns?” Nephi wondered what Kahoku knew.
“You have wondered how we will get to where we are going. You may trust me, my friend. I have traveled these seas for many years. I have traded with the peoples of two great lands, and all of the isles between. We will be safe. I know the way, and the God of the heavens will guide us by his lights.”
Nephi remembered the light that Gabriel had unfolded to his view—it would be new, and brighter than the Morning Star. He nodded and looked skyward. “Yes, I know we will be guided. But I have not yet seen it.”
“Samuel told me of his visitation. He said that Gabriel visited you too. Did he tell you why you were to go?”
Nephi looked back at him, surprised at the question. Kahoku's expression was kind and patient. “To be a witness,” Nephi said.
Kahoku smiled. “Samuel said the same thing. Although I desire to look upon the King with mine own eyes, also as a witness, I was told to bring you something, and then take you to the land of our forefathers.”
Curious, Nephi prodded him. “What do you mean, 'bring something'?”
Kahoku grinned like a young boy, his teeth showing in an almost mischievous manner. But then his expression changed, becoming much more serious. “You have given your whole life to God. Although I have not offended Him, my days have been filled with material pursuits. My family has become rich in our trading, and I have spent most of my life upon the waters. Under the stars, I have become restless. Not for the want of more travel, but for the desire of meaning to my life. I have wondered, 'What will Kahoku do? What will they say about Kahoku when they gather at his passing?' I have sought answers to these questions.”
Nephi understood. He too had felt like his life needed to count for something.
Kahoku continued. “As I said before, the angel came to me too—on this ship as I navigated the seas in search for my purpose. Much like you, I was shown the way to go. But I also asked another blessing of the messenger. I desired that I might give an offering of what I have. You have given your very life in constant service. I will give what I can—of those things which I have gained by my trade.”
With that, Kahoku left the tiller and entered the cabin. He soon returned bearing a medium sized chest, apparently very heavy. He also had a small bag in his hand.
Kahoku cleared his throat, obviously excited about what he was going to show. “Nephi, this will be my contribution. I would like you and Samuel to share it with me so that we might all bring an offering to the new King.” With that, he threw the lid open, exposing the glimmer of gold within. Most pieces were in the form of medallions or ingots, but a few were coins, some of them Senines from the lands of the Nephites. The treasure was enough to make a man very rich.
His eyes wide, Nephi realized that the wealth before him was an answer to his prayer. They would not arrive without something to give. The King would have gifts!
“Are you pleased?” Kahoku asked.
“Yes! You have made an old man very happy. I have anguished over my dilemma: How does one approach a great king, and do so without bearing gifts?”
“I am glad.” Kahoku paused. “I have one more chest like this, but smaller. With it, I think we should buy other gifts fit for a king.”
Nephi could not think of anything else which would be appropriate. What does a king need? Jewels, perhaps? Rare cloth? A fine sword?
Kahoku closed the lid on the chest, then stood. He untied the leather bag in his hand, reached in and brought his hand forward, clasping something within. “Perhaps one of these would be considered a valuable gift? I was recently among the people of the Han empire. Some of them had traded with merchants from the land of our forefathers. I was told they were very costly.”
Nephi edged closer, and caught a faint, yet pungent scent. Familiar with the scriptural accounts which described incense, his heart raced. Kahoku opened his hand. There in his palm were two nuggets of resin, one a cloudy yellow, and the other, brown and pitted like weathered sandstone.
Nephi tentatively reached, and Kahoku obliged. He took them and sniffed each in turn. Their distinctly sweet and powerful scents were wonderful. He smiled. “Kahoku, these are perfect! I think we should buy as much as we can afford once we arrive.” Nephi gave them back to the man.
Confused, Kahoku returned the two pieces to the bag and pulled the strings tight. “You know what these are? How do you know? Have you been to Jerusalem?”
Nephi shook his head. “No, but they are both mentioned in the records of our fathers. I am certain that the yellow one is the same incense which they burn in the Temple. The other, used for balms and ointments.”
Kahoku scratched his head. “When I purchased them, the people of Han said they did not remember their names. What are they?”
Nephi smiled. “One is frankincense. And I believe the other is called myrrh.”