It was very bright for being so early, Aaron thought while rubbing his eyes. He paused and watched as a fly buzzed between the cornstalks beside him. It had been a good year for the crops and tomorrow they would take the first of the harvest to market. They would also give part of it to the Nephite troops that protected them from the land of Jershon. It had been over thirteen years since he and his people, the Ammonites, had left their homes and come to live with the Nephites, long before he could remember.
His mother often told Aaron and his older brother, Samuel, stories of how the Nephite missionaries had come to the land of Nephi and taught them the Gospel, how they had to flee from their homes after being attacked by their brethren, and how their faith in Christ had led them to make an oath to never take up weapons again. Now they relied on the Nephites to protect them, and that need was growing every day.
The attacks by the Lamanites were increasing and war, it seemed, had spread throughout all the lands of the Nephites. Lamanite armies, along with Nephites dissenters, had taken many cities along the west sea. But the Nephites were finally starting to gain ground. Aaron loved to hear stories of great warriors, like Moroni, Lehi, and Teancum and their great victories in battle.
Father called and awoke him out of his thoughts.
“Keep up, Aaron! We have to get this field done this morning so we have the afternoon to get ready for market.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Aaron replied as he continued working his way down the row.
“Follow behind me, little brother,” Samuel joked as he threw a large basket on his shoulder. “I’ll take care of the heavy lifting.”
“Leave your brother alone and pay attention to your own work, Samuel,” Dad scolded.
Aaron watched his father lift several large baskets of corn on to their wagon. Father was a strong man, but peaceful and soft-spoken by nature. Recently, though, he and many of the other men from the village had started to talk about joining the Nephites in defending their country. They feared to break their oath that they would never shed blood again, but their hearts ached at the tribulations that the Nephites bore for their people.
Aaron also feared what his father’s breaking the oath might mean, not just here, but in Heaven too. At least Helaman and his brothers had arrived and were speaking to the people later that evening. If anyone could tell them the right thing to do, it would be Helaman. Much like the war hero stories of Moroni, Lehi, and Teancum, tales were told of the great and powerful missionary work Helaman and his brothers had done among the Zoramites and Nephites.
Aaron wasn’t sure which he’d rather be, a great warrior or a great missionary. Perhaps hearing Helaman later would help him decide.
“Aaron,” his father’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts of warriors and missionaries and back to being a farmer again.
Aaron anxiously sat on the ground between his father and brother. Earlier, while they were preparing the wagon for market, father had finally opened up about his feelings on the night’s meeting. “Good men are dying out there to protect us,” and “If they had the extra manpower this war could be over by now,” were just a few of his reasons for wanting to fight. There were also tear filled moments as recalled the old, Lamanite ways and the joy of forgiveness that came as the gospel changed his life. The only comfort Aaron and Samuel could give their father was to wait and see what Helaman had to say.
Now, all went silent as Helaman stood before them and spoke. “My beloved brethren, I feel your pain. I know that in your hearts you feel you must fight. Many of you have already begun preparations to go to war, but I must beg you not to break your oath for fear that you may lose your souls. Trust in the Lord, he will provide a way for victory without you putting yourselves in eternal danger.”
Aaron watched for a long time as Helaman spoke of the people’s past and how, through the love of God and his earthly servants, they came to live among the Nephites in the land of Melek. As the speech went on, the people’s hearts softened and they laid down their swords. When Helaman finished, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the leader of the people of Ammon, stood and spoke.
“It is a hard thing to keep the oath, my people, but Helaman is right. Only through the Son of God have the stains of our past been washed away. If we break our oath now, I fear our souls will be unforgivably stained, as the swords we would carry.”
As Aaron listened to all the talk about breaking the oath, he filled with sadness as he thought that more Nephites would die in his defense and he couldn’t help. He hated feeling like he was hiding on the farm while others fought for him. He was young, but strong from growing up, working the land. His heart was full of desire to do something.
His eyes fell as the sadness grew. As he looked at the ground he sat on, his eyes moved to his father’s sword, now lying between them. It looked heavy, he assumed so anyway. He’d never actually held a sword. He was far too young to remember the wars and bloodshed before the oath. Come to think of it he couldn’t remember taking the oath itself.
Suddenly a realization struck him. He couldn’t remember taking the oath because he was just a baby. Even his older brother would have been too young to speak back then. And if he hadn’t taken the oath, then he couldn’t be bound by it. Aaron reached down and lifted the shining weapon. It was heavy, but no more so than any of the tools he used daily on the farm. “I could do this,” he thought
Without a second thought, Aaron stood and above the solemn crowd shouted, “I have not taken the oath and I will go and fight.” All eyes turned in his direction. “I was too young to make the promise, so I will go and stand with the Nephite soldiers to defend our country.”
Samuel rose to his brother’s side. “I, too, have not taken the oath and I, too, will go.”
A rapid wave swept through the crowd as other young men got to their feet and shouted out their desire to help in the defense of their people.
The early morning sun shot streaks of light, like arrows over the valley as Aaron and his father rode their wagon full of produce to market. They would travel several hours to trade for goods with the Nephites. Samuel had joined a second group that would take food and supplies to the Nephite troops in Jershon.
They rode in silence; there wasn’t much left to be said after mother and father’s talk with them once they got home from the meeting with Helaman. His father was far more silent than he expected, mainly expressing pride for his sons’ courage. Mother, on the other hand, was not. But to Aaron’s surprise, his mother was not scolding or mournful, nor did she try to talk them out of their decision. Instead she spoke to them of being obedient and having faith in God, and as they followed their faith, God would deliver them.
Aaron reflected on the meeting. After the young men expressed their desire to defend their country, they assembled before Helaman and Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Helaman blessed them for their bravery and asked who would lead them, since there were no older men that hadn’t taken the oath. Voices came unanimously from the group that they wished Helaman to be their leader.
Aaron would never forget the surprised look on Helaman’s face. At first he was reluctant saying that he was a spiritual leader, not a military one. But his mind was changed, as the group pleaded, replying that a leader, guided by the Spirit, would make the best military leader.
By the end of the meeting, they numbered two thousand young men who had joined their ranks and pledged to defend their country.
Leaning back against the wagon, Aaron could see his father negotiating with different merchants. Looking around the crowded market, he could see venders of all sorts and trades. There were farmers with different types of fruits and vegetables, herders with various animals, and others dealing in clothes and jewelry. Father always looked around for something nice for mom. He would be awhile, so Aaron stayed by the cart and took in the sites and sounds.
He wondered if he would be back in time for market next year. He knew joining the Nephite army was the right thing to do, but still, he would miss his home and family terribly. But if the Lamanites won the war, they would destroy all of his people because of their deep hatred for them. Worst of all, they would destroy all those who belonged to the church and that was something that he would not allow.
Aaron felt his spirit swell within him as he thought of God’s great plan of redemption. Mom had taught he and Samuel many times of how Christ would come and take upon himself the sins of the world. She told them of when, by Faith in Christ, their people had been cleansed of their sins and the joy they had received was what led them to make the oath to never take up the sword again.
As he sat and thought, two voices passed by on the other side of the wagon. He could not see them, but he couldn’t help hear them talking about the Ammonite boys that were joining the war. He bent a little lower, hiding behind the wagon, and listened.
“Of course I don’t think they shouldn’t help. I mean, I wish none of us had to go to war, but it’s just they’re so young and really they’re just farmers, not soldiers,” came a voice. “They'll probably just be in the way.”
“True,” the second voice replied, “but at least they’ll have Helaman to watch out for them. Not having any combat training, perhaps Helaman will be able to keep them away from any major trouble.”
Aaron turned slightly to look around the wagon. The two voices were now disappearing into the crowded market. “Just farmers,” he thought, “Keep us out of trouble! They make it sound like we’re going to spend all our time hiding behind Helaman.”
He certainly didn’t want to go to war. Nor did he have any desire to kill anyone else, or be killed for that matter. His people did not start the war, but if war was the only way to protect his family, country, and religion, then he would fight. “Don’t doubt,” his mother said, “and God will deliver you.”
An approaching shadow caught Aaron off guard. Startled, he turned around to see his father returning from the market.
"All set, son. Give me a hand unloading the cart and we’ll be on our way,” Father said, carrying something long and thin, wrapped in a coarse brown cloth.
“Is that for mom,” Aaron asked. “What’d you get her?”
“Actually, its not for your mother. She and I talked it over this morning. Your brother, being older and taller, will carry the long sword I was going to take into battle. So, we agreed that, with the extra money we would make today, I would buy you this.” Father held out the package, his face serene and steady.
Aaron reached out and took it. It was lighter than he expected. Gently folding back the cloth revealed the tanned animal skin covered hilt of a sword.
It had been months since their group arrived in the city of Judea. Aaron stood guard on the wall that faced the city of Manti and thought of the time that had passed since leaving Melek. They had been hard months, but passed quickly. Not knowing anything about war, he had figured that they would march straight into great battles. Fortunately, that had not been the case.
When they had first arrived, Judea was on the verge of collapse. Antipus, the leader of the troops for this part of the land, was so glad to see them that Aaron thought he might collapse, too. The Lamanites had reduced the troops in the area to the point where it was all they could do to maintain the city, fighting all day and fortifying at night.
Seeing the arrival of fresh troops, the Lamanites backed off and hadn’t attacked since. That had given them time to build up Judea’s defenses and precious time to do some combat training, which they desperately needed. Aaron looked down at the hilt of his sword. It no longer had the light tan color from when it was new, but was now dark and stained with sweat.
At least, all the work kept his mind off home. It seemed like forever since he’d seen the farm. It would be time to start the harvest soon. He closed his eyes and remembered his father teaching he and Samuel about reading the seasons for the best times to plant and to gather. He definitely wouldn’t be going to market this year.
Now he mostly guarded the city and patrolled for Lamanite troops. For the first few months, they stayed within the city walls while they were trained by the experienced Nephites soldiers. After several weeks of training, Helaman started letting the oldest among them go out with the Nephites. Aaron couldn’t wait for Samuel to come back and tell him all about it. The more he listened the more he wanted to go outside the city too. He tired of drills and felt more and more like he was just hiding inside the city walls.
As time passed, he was finally allowed to patrol. They were always teamed up with a group of the older men. He learned a great deal from the battle hardened Nephite warriors as they taught him how to scout an area without being seen, to tell how fresh a set of tracks were, and, most importantly, what techniques worked best in actual combat.
Techniques he would most likely need very soon. Fresh supplies had been coming in, along with more men from Zarahemla. Seeing Judea’s strength grow made the Lamanites antsy and they were on the move. They had been spotted along the supply routes and had brutally attacked several patrols.
Helaman told them that Antipus had come up with a plan. In two days time, he would take his two thousand sons, as he now referred to Aaron and his fellow Ammonites, and march pass the Lamanite held city of Antiparah, as if they were taking provisions to another Nephite city. Once the Lamanite armies left Antiparah and gave chase, Antipus would attack from behind, surrounding them.
Now the time had come. The thought of killing someone gave him a sick feeling deep in the pit of his stomach, but if they didn’t stop the Lamanites here, the enemy would march right through the Nephite lands, killing everyone in their path. Surely, God would not allow his people to be destroyed.
Mother’s words came to him again. “Don’t doubt the Lord and He will deliver you,” was the last thing she said to them. He rolled the words over and over in his mind. He did believe, even more now than he did then. But was his faith strong enough? Would it give him the courage he needed? Aaron looked up into the deep blue sky, reached out with his heart, and prayed for more faith.
Tomorrow would be the big offensive. Aaron stood guard again; perched high on the wall facing the city of Manti. The sun was setting and cast long shadows across the land. He watched as the first bats flittered around trees. His replacement would be coming soon and he would try to get some sleep before the big day. He doubted that he, or anyone else, would get much sleep tonight.
The wooden ladder that led up to the wall creaked as someone started to ascend it. To Aaron’s surprise, it was not his replacement, but Antipus, the commander of the forces at Judea. Aaron quickly stood at attention and gave a formal greeting.
“No need to be formal this evening,” Antipus said as he looked out over the land. “I was passing by and saw you up here. Thought I would climb up and have a look around. I often go for a walk before a battle, let’s me clear my head and remember what all the fighting is for.”
Unsure what to say, Aaron stood quiet for a moment. He’d seen Antipus many times as he monitored training exercises and inspected the troops, but he’d never been close enough to speak. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so they both stood in silence.
“It’s a beautiful night, tranquil; the proverbial calm before the storm,” Antipus said.
“Do you think they’ll follow us tomorrow?” Aaron asked.
“Well, they certainly have been more aggressive lately,” Antipus replied. Again, for a moment, there was silence until Antipus broke it, his voice more sorrowful. “I want to apologize to you. Tomorrow I will be putting you and your brothers in great danger. It hurts me to use you as decoys, but right now it’s our best chance.”
“What’s it like to be in battle, sir?” Aaron questioned, thinking of the stories he’d heard from the Nephite soldiers.
The dimming sunlight illuminated the wear of many long, hard-fought battles across Antipus’ face. “It’s hard to describe, perhaps because once you’ve seen one, all you want to do is forget. I won’t lie to you, son, you will see horrific sights. Sights no man should have to see, especially ones so young.”
“You are young. You don’t look much older than my own son,” Antipus continued. “That’s why we fight, of course, for our families and friends. We give our lives to protect the future for them. Well, hopefully no one will give theirs tomorrow, as vain a hope as that may be.”
Antipus reached out and put his hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “I need to leave men behind to guard the city. If you don’t feel ready, I could talk to Helaman and make sure you are one of them.”
Aaron felt himself stiffen. He knew the offer was sincere, but the thought of staying behind was unimaginable. “Thank you, Sir, but I made an oath to God that I would fight to protect my people and I intend to keep it.”
Antipus smiled and squeezed his shoulder tightly, “Courage! I wish all my men were like you and your brothers, young man.” Antipus turned and started back down the ladder. “May God bless you for your oath.”
It had been less than three days since they had left the city of Judea, but they had covered more territory than a week’s worth of travel. Everyone was sore and tired, but no one complained, whether from exhaustion or faith Aaron couldn’t tell. They had been successful in getting the Lamanite soldiers at Antiparah to chase them, too successful. Now they marched all day to try to stay ahead of them. The only rest they got was at night and before they awoke in the morning, the Lamanites would already be closing in.
The sun was now completely up and Aaron could tell that something wasn’t right. One of the rear guards had run up through the ranks and was now reporting to Helaman. Everyone came to a halt. Aaron gave a confused look to his brother, who had stayed beside him the entire march. Samuel shrugged his shoulders in response.
Soon Helaman called for all the troops to gather around him. He had found a large rock and stood on it as a make shift platform. He looked out over the small army he had led from Melek.
“My sons, I have disturbing news. The Lamanites no longer pursue us. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps Antipus has finally overtaken them. Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare. Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go to battle against them?a”
A loud cheer rose up from the crowd, as swords were raise overhead. The guard, who had given Helaman the report, was still standing beside him. He jumped up on the rock beside their leader and shouted for all to hear.
“Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, least they should overpower the army of Antipus.b”
And with that the whole army shouted out the saying that they carried in their hearts. The saying that their mothers had taught them, “We do not doubt that God will deliver us!”
It was not long before Helaman and his warriors found the reason why the Lamanites had stopped following them. Antipus and his men had indeed caught the Lamanites and a great battle had taken place. Many dead bodies lay around the field before them and it appeared as though the Lamanites had won.
Several of the Ammonites vomited at the sight. Antipus was right, it was horrific.
Helaman called out, “Take heart, my sons! The battle still goes on ahead, the Lamanites pursue Antipus’ men and they need our help. To battle!”
The young warriors charged forward at the command. Aaron began marching forward through the tall grass before them. He kept his eyes forward in hopes he would not have to see the carnage around him. In doing so, he tripped over an unseen object in the grass. As he rolled to a stop, he opened his eyes and found himself face to face with Antipus, whose face now looked calm and serene.
As quickly as he fell, a hand took him by the arm and raised him to his feet. Samuel held his brother steady for a moment and spoke. “Listen little brother, I want you to stay back behind Helaman. You’ll be safer there, more protected.”
Aaron started to speak, but Samuel cut him off. “Aaron, I don’t doubt that the Lord will deliver us the victory. But, like the Nephite soldiers told us, the Lamanites don’t show mercy and they don’t take prisoners. When the battle is won, I just want to be sure that one of us is there to see it.”
Aaron stood speechless. He knew that Samuel loved him and was just trying to protect him. His eyes fell, not knowing how to answer. They fell upon the lifeless face of Antipus and in his mind he saw a boy now without a father. He thought of his family and home back in the land of Melek.
“This is why we fight,” he whispered.
“What did you say?” Samuel asked, looking confused.
“I will not hide behind Helaman, Samuel. We took the oath together and the Lord will protect us as we fight together.”
The battle had been fierce. Helaman’s men overtook the Lamanites and began the work of destruction. So great was their attack that the Lamanites stop pursuing the remnant of Antipus’ army and turned with full force to fight the stripling warriors. This gave Antipus’ troops a chance to regroup and they surrounded the Lamanites. And it is said that the Ammonites fought as if with the strength of God. They fought with such power, that the Lamanite soldiers surrendered their weapons and prayed for mercy.
As soon as the battle ended, Helaman sent a call for all of his sons to be counted, fearing many had been slain. To everyone’s amazement, not one of them had fallen.
Aaron and Samuel returned to the city of Judea with Helaman and the two thousand Ammonites. Each one was changed by the conflict, mentally, physically, but most of all spiritually. There would be many other battles, but they kept their oath and never doubted. And the Lord protected them and never did any of them fall by the sword.
a. Alma 56: 43-44
b. Alma 56:46