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Ain't happenin' here.


Book of Mormon Story Voting Instructions

Please read the voting instructions carefully as they are a bit tricky this time.

Voting for LDSP's 2010 Book of Mormon YA Story Contest starts NOW!

VOTE between Monday, February 22 and midnight on Saturday, February 27.

Voting Info:
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    Publisher's Choice (Unpublished authors).

  2. Publisher's Choice winners will be judged on a variety of criteria, according to a point system. But it basically boils down to quality of writing, uniqueness of story and what I think will best sell the book.

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    I could not find a poll that would allow more than 10 options AND let you vote twice. So the Published Author category, with 16 stories, is broken into two BLUE poll boxes. Although it will allow you to vote twice in each of the poll boxes, please ONLY VOTE FOR TWO STORIES between the two poll boxes.

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  9. I'll announce the winners on Monday, March 1st.
It's going to take a lot of time for me to go through these stories, write feedback, and pick winners. Therefore, the regular LDSP blog posts are suspended this week.

[P.S. Comments on the stories will also enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]

26: The Lamanite's Prisoner

Zuri stood atop a hill. Her hair was blown back slightly in the wind. Her faithful dog Mika stood by her side and panted in the brightly shining sun. She looked down upon an army of men. To anybody else she looked like a loyal Nephite. To Zuri this was a world changing moment. She felt like her whole life was being crushed.

Her brother was going and so was her father. They were going to war against the Lamanites. Her father Teancum went as a captain and her brother Alec went as your common soldier. Zuri felt her emotions overwhelming her and rushed off into the forest to avoid anybody seeing her crying.

She walked slowly along a dirt trail, thinking about the past days. She heard somebody’s footsteps behind her and stepped off the trail figuring her aunt (who she was staying with)had sent somebody to find her.. She didn’t want to be found. Zuri looked out onto the path to see who had been the cause of the footsteps and saw Mika. She laughed feeling a little foolish and stepped out of the trees.

Suddenly Mika growled in her direction and she jumped back, into the arms of a grown man. He clamped his hand over her mouth to hold back her screams. She squirmed around and found herself looking into the eyes of a Lamanite. His dark skin was painted and he looked quite angry.

Mika jumped on him and knocked him over. Suddenly more Lamanites came spilling out of the forest and one grabbed her while a lot of them threw rocks at Mika. Zuri knew Mika could have won any of them in one on one combat but there were so many of them and Mika soon lay whimpering at the side of the road.

Zuri slumped against whoever it was that had captured her. Her dog was dead and her brother and father were both at war. Her mom had been captured by the Lamanites a long time ago.

The Lamanite picked her up and put her into a supply wagon. Zuri sat slumped against the side with her eyes closed.

A long while later The wagon came to a stop and the lamanite made camp. They placed several guards around Zuri and she closed her eyes and ignored anything the Lamanites said. She heard howling in the dark and her heart ached for Mika. Her Lamanite guards were slumped over and Mika guessed they were asleep.

She stood up and went over to one. She pulled his sword out of its sheath and was pulled down by its weight. She walked through the camp towards what she guessed was north. She heard whimpering and saw a dog tugging against its chain. She set the sword down and walked towards the dog whispering “’s okay boy, eeeeeeasy. “She unhooked the collar and he took off like lightning.

Zuri picked up the sword and walked away. She told herself that she didn’t need another dog. She would always remain loyal to Mika. The other part of her mind told her she could be loyal to two dogs.

A few hours later Zuri was too tired to keep walking. She sat down against a tree that was just a few steps off the path and told herself she would just rest for a minute. Soon she was asleep.

The next morning she woke up to the sound of a dog whimpering beside her. She figured it was Mika and reached out to pet her. The dog let out a short bark and she jerked back. Suddenly she remembered that Mika was dead.

There were fruits growing in the tall trees that surrounded her. She climbed one and picked a few. When she climbed back down the dog was still sitting there. It was a skinny dark brown dog and it gave her a pleading look. She tossed it one of the fruits and it ate it quickly. She tossed it another and started walking.

She thought about what she might call the dog. Maybe Dawn she thought. But then she criticized herself for starting to like another dog.

She looked around. The dog had abandoned her.

When the sun was at its highest point in the sky the dog was back with its head tilted and giving her a puppy dog look. She climbed a tree and picked several more fruits. When she climbed down she held one out in her hand.

Without thinking she said “here Dawn, her girl” and the dog walked slowly to her. While Dawn ate the fruits out of her hand she petted its head gently.

The dogs stayed with Zuri, just a few paces away for the rest of the day. Zuri’s conscience told her she should stay loyal to her original dog but she couldn’t get herself to tell Dawn to leave.

She was also starting to wish that she had taken the sheath of the sword she was carrying around; it was starting to feel really heavy.

Suddenly she could hear clanking of swords on other swords. She hurried to the top of a hill then rushed down into the battle. She swung the heavy sword around awkwardly on managing to knock the wind out of a few men. She caused very little real damage.

Then somebody hit her with the flat side of their sword and she was knocked out. She awoke a few hours later. Dawn was sitting beside her growling at anybody who approached. A man stood a few paces away. “The army is no place for a girl” he said.

“My dog was killed and I was kidnapped by the Lamanites, then I escaped and I found you guys fighting this battle and so I rushed in” Zuri said.

“Your dog looks fine to me”

“I meant my other dog” Zuri said impatiently. “Do you know Teancum?”

The man said “well I did, but then I left the nephrite army and joined the Lamanites.”

“How could you?”Zuri said, but then the man hit dawn with the back of his sword and pulled Zuri away kicking and screaming.

“Captain Teancum will be easy to work with once he hears that we’ve got his little girl for ransom” The man said. Zuri kicked harder, but it was of no use.

Once they got to the Lamanite camp Zuri was tied up and left with several guards. She thought one of the younger ones was pretty cute, but then she realized the guy she was calling cute would kill her without a second thought and she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see him.

This caused her to think of the two dogs she had lost in the last 36 hours. She resolved not to have any more dogs since she was obviously such terrible luck. Her pain made her cry so hard she fell asleep.

Later that night she heard men shouting and heard someone say that the Lamanite leader Amoron was dead. Zuri wondered what had happened, but nobody would tell her. The next day the Lamanites rushed off to battle leaving very few guards. The guards that were left fell asleep because of how little sleep they had gotten the night before.

Zuri cut herself free with a knife she pulled out of a Lamanite’s belt and ran in the direction of the battle ground she had been at the day before. On her way there she found Dawn sniffing along in the direction of the Lamanite camps. “You are a loyal dog after all” she said then she kissed the top of Dawn’s head.

Soon she could hear the clanking of swords again and went in that direction. She found a Javelin lying on the ground and she picked it up. It was almost as tall as she was, and a very awkward thing to carry.

She asked the first Nephite she saw about the location of Captain Teancum and he said “Haven’t you heard little girl, he died last night when he went to kill Amoron”. Zuri’s anger consumed her and she ran into the center of the battle.

Zuri fought the Lamanites in a fierce anger. She hated this sort of thing. She decided to never get near a battle again. At the end of the battle there were two dogs that rushed up to her side. At first she thought that Dawn had a friend, but then she realized the second dog was Mika.

Zuri didn’t know whether to be happy because Mika was back or sad because Her Dad was dead. In her aching heart she decided to be both.

The next day she began the walked back to the Nephite territory. She wondered where Alec was. Every day she hoped she would see him.

Several weeks later she reached the Nephite city of Moroni. The few weeks marching with the army she had built up in her mind what would happen when she found Alec. Then she noticed him amid all the celebrating Nephites. He was taller than he had been and his hair was lighter. She ran to him with Mika and Dawn close behind her and said “Alec!”

He looked down at her as if he didn’t recognize her and the he said “who are you?”

“I’m Zuri, your sister” she said in a slightly surprised voice.

“My sister was kidnapped by Lamanites” Alec said.

“But I’m standing right here “Zuri said.

“My little sister wasn’t so annoying; just go away “Alec said.

Zuri walked away. She would go to her aunt’s house and when he went home he’s find out.

“What’s wrong girl” A cute boy with tan skin said.

“Oh, nothing” Zuri said not wanting to tell a stranger her troubles.

She looked up at the boy and realized he was obviously of Lamanite heritage because his skin was much darker than tan. “Well my dad’s dead and my brother doesn’t think I’m alive” Zuri mumbled.

“That ought to be hard” The boy said.

Zuri glanced up shocked. The boy’s ears were as good as an owl’s. Then he offered out his hand. Zuri took it without thinking. Then he pulled her over to a beautiful brown horse. He jumped on and pulled her up. Then he took her on a wild ride through the Meadows. Mika and Dawn followed close behind.

25: Song of Saphir

by David J. West

Saphir moved with grace and stealth, her closest sisters. It wouldn’t do to be recognized even at this late hour. Nothing but her green eyes and wisps of red hair were readily visible. Her thin frame was wrapped in multi-colored veils that blended with the darkness like the children of shadows.

No respectable woman would stroll the finer avenues of Zarahemla after dark, let alone the river-quarter. Here villains and rogues congregated in taverns, carnivals and drug-dens, all of the filth eventually sliding into the River Sidon with a sickening gasp.

Saphir had no such qualms, it was business. Carrier pigeons brought word of a mandatory meeting with Boaz, “the Profit”, dealer of all things both legal and permanently borrowed. She crept through the door of the usual place, a tavern so old and forgotten only the Three Disciples might remember the name, and they hadn’t been seen themselves in quite some time.

The Profit, sat at his usual table, gulping soup. His bodyguards sat at the table across the aisle. Boaz, a heavy-set man, decorated his long black-beard with gold and turquoise beads woven into braids. His crafty eyes narrowed and a smile spread as Saphir approached.

“Saphir, whose name means beautiful, has a heart, ugly and cold as Desolation in winter,” said Boaz. “It’s a wonder your very touch doesn’t freeze me to the bone.”

“You think I would touch you? The only thing more repulsive is your stench.”

“But here we are,” he said, grinning. “I’ve a job for you, Queen of Thieves.”

The title flattered more than she wished to admit.

“I have it on good account, that a holy relic is to be removed from the Tower of Sherrizah in one week. They’re going to open that celestial vault for the first time in decades, remove its few treasures. This is the last opportunity to steal it before it’s lost, buried in the earth, forgotten,” said Boaz.

“Why do you care? Profit, you’re no believer.”

“Of course I’m not, couldn’t fence the relic if I wanted too, but the Grand Master, wants them.”

“He wants them?” she asked. “Why not use his people?”

Boaz shrugged, “Gadiantons have been lying low these last few weeks. Most are gone from the city.”

“As are the Chief Judges most prized guardsmen,” she added.

“Gadiantons asked for you specifically.”

She bit her lip beneath the veil. Most clients were wealthy merchants and nobles. They would have her steal various treasures to appear more prestigious than each other. Sometimes it was information and on occasion something more. Gadiantons never employed her, too insulted that she would not join them. But why pay a tithe to the order when she could keep it all for herself? She had gotten along just fine without their help or employment, why accept it now? It could only come with hidden shackles attached.

“No, I won’t work for Gadiantons. They want to entice me to join their order with a big score, don’t they?”

Boaz’s smile faded like sunset, slow then dark. “Saphir, enough games. You’ve gone your own way for years, you have a reputation. Things are changing, you can’t avoid them. They want you to do the job and join their ranks or else.”

“Or else what?”

“They know who your family is. Your brothers and sisters, Helaman, Mariah, Gideon and little Ari, they told me. If you don’t do this, Gadianton assassins will pay your family a visit. I always said you can’t keep secrets forever.”

“What do they want?”

“Go to the Tower, retrieve the Interpreter, bring it back. You’ll be paid and ordained into the order. It’s very simple, why fight it? You know which way the wind is blowing.”

“Anything else?”

“Yea, women aren’t meant to be alone. Think on it,” he said, with a yellowed grin as he groped for her.

With a feline’s grace and speed, Saphir reached across the table taking hold of the Profit’s bejeweled beard with her left hand. Her right hand arced a blade grasped tight and true.

Boaz closed his eyes tight.

Saphir’s knife took the beard from his chin. She dropped the golden braids in his soup and turned to leave. One of the bodyguards got up but Saphir forced him down with a violent wrist-lock. The other bodyguard thought better of interfering.

“If anything happens to my family.”

“You’ll do nothing,” Boaz chuckled to hide his fear. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you, but Gadiantons already have them. Do the job if you want to see them again.”

Eyes blazing a silent fury, Saphir slid out the backdoor, as Boaz lamented for a barber.


Returning to her home, silence reigned where she should have been greeted with multiple snores. None should have known this was her families home. Signs of struggle littered the floor. They had trusted her to care for them and now their young lives hung in critical balance. Saphir pounded against unfeeling walls before collapsing in tears.
She would do whatever it took for the children’s return. Writing a brief encoded message, she attached the note to a carrier pigeon and released the bird. Packing her special tools and rations for two weeks, she wondered if her dead parents could ever have imagined this dire predicament for their children.

Saphir changed into simple traveling clothes: a white silk blouse and flared black breeches, common enough, if she were a man. She boarded a river-merchant’s ship to take her down the Sidon to the forks, where the Bountiful River feeds the Sidon.

On the journey Saphir calculated she would lose three to four days if luck prevailed, and as much as six days if the rowers were lax. Such ships had a full compliment of men to row upstream when the sails couldn’t do the job. Most men who did such back-breaking labor were not slaves but debtors and released criminals who could find little else for work.

Saphir recalled that if she lacked useful talents she could have belonged to a debtors camp herself. If she failed on this and the Gadiantons let her siblings live, they would certainly end in the orphanage and then debtor camps. There was no justice under the rule of Judges, except perhaps from the fanatical Chief Judge. But she could never expect mercy from the leader of that antiquated church. Thinking of her family held by Gadiantons, Saphir steeled herself not to cry until sure that no one could see.

“What’s this? A doe-eyed girl with tears, such a beauty shouldn’t be weeping,” said a tall dark-haired man with a trim goatee. He wore a fine red cloak and an even finer sword on his belt. “She should be smiling, it’s a fine day.” He smiled but his teeth, white and predatory, reminded her more of a wolf than man.

“Be off, I’ve no time for false swordsmen.”

“But we have only just met on this most glorious day.”

“Or weak poet’s.”

“I’ll tell you one truth or two, dear lady. I am no false swordsman. I know why you are journeying to Sherrizah,” he said with eyes blazing some hidden emotion she couldn’t read.

“Do tell before I call your bluff, you scarlet-coated Nimrod.”

“You cut me to the quick. If only my sword had your tongue’s sharpness. But in truth I am a mighty hunter, sent to keep an eye on you,” he said showing those dazzling teeth.

“Are you to help, hinder or merely report on me…Errand-boy?”

He stifled a laugh. “My name is Mithradates of Antionum. I am a proud son of Zoram. I was to watch and report upon your progress, but I’ve had a change of heart.”

“I thought Gadiantons sacrificed their hearts to Cain on the full moon. Even I won’t hazard a guess at what Zoramites sacrifice.”

His smile dimmed. “I saw the children and knew I could not be a party to that. They look like you, long red curls and bright green eyes. I couldn’t hurt them. I swore to help you, for their sake.”

“What of your bloody oaths? Once a Gadianton always a Gadianton, so they say.”

“Times are changing,” said Mithradates.

“For the worse,” laughed Saphir.

“The Chief Judge vowed to break the Gadiantons into a thousand pieces.”

“You have to catch them first.”

“He will, he is wise, and I’m wise enough to change.”

Her gaze pierced him. “You would risk the blood oath for children you’ve never met and a beautiful thief? You’re a liar, what do you say to that?”

“Trust me.”

“Trust a stranger I just met? No thanks. I was promised if I completed the theft and gave it to ‘the Profit ’, I’d be inducted into the Gadiantons,” said Saphir.

“Promises and oaths mean nothing but to another Gadianton. They mean to eliminate an embarrassment, the Queen of Thieves, the most successful thief in all of Zarahemla and beyond.”

Saphir laughed, this time with actual humor rather than spite. “Queen of Thieves, paid my vanity more than it ever did in gold limnah’s. I’m not half so wealthy as you might think. I give most all my spoils to the poor of Zarahemla. Those that the rich and haughty trod upon. I rule no one and no one rules me.”

“That’s why you must let me help you. Let us retrieve the Interpreter, get the children back and then cut ourselves from the Gadianton chain. They plan on slaying you once you return,” said Mithradates. “You’re going to need someone on your side, and here I am.”

“You really want to help me? Give me space the rest of the voyage to Beersheba, we can talk on the ride to Sherrizah, agreed?”

Mithradates nodded and left her there on bow alone with her thoughts.


The ship made good time down the Sidon to the junction of rivers, but it was slow going up the east-forking Bountiful River. Nothing for Saphir to do but think, scheme and stroke the ship’s cat. It helped pass the time to mull things over with the scrawny beast. Mithradates was always nearby, but never spoke again.

None had ever succeeded in theft regarding the massive Tower of Sherrizah. There was not a taller building in the Nephite world. It dwarfed even the watchtowers of Bountiful, Manti and Zarahemla. Saphir wondered if she was meant to fail. What if Mithradates was right that the Gadiantons had planned this to eliminate competition? He was handsome and charming, but a darkness speared his soul. Wasn’t it fair to say one darkened hers as well? If only the cat would answer, she mused.

After five days, the ship anchored at the town of Beersheba. Saphir sauntered down the gangplank to complete her journey. It was early and Mithradates still slept. She decided to be rid of him rather than wait. Who needs a lazy man?

Browsing over the stables, Saphir purchased the swiftest horse she could find, a buckskin mare with strong legs. She paid more than she thought the animal was worth, because there was no time to haggle. Preparing to ride south, her friend, the ship’s cat announced herself. Scooping the scraggly black cat up to her waiting arms, the three rode away with all possible speed.

Numerous times Saphir allowed the horse to rest while she and the cat walked. Knowing she could not reach the city of Sherrizah until well after dark, Saphir found a campsite a not far from the road. In a copse of trees she rolled out a blanket and ate a light meal sharing with the cat.

“Tomorrow we’ll be in Sherrizah and I’ll know if my plan will work. If it doesn’t then,” she trailed off stroking the cat.

She fell asleep beneath bleak stars, worrying if her siblings were scared and when she could see them again. Nightmares slithered up beside, feeding off her warmth and fear. In the night she thought she heard the cat hiss once and go silent, but sleep demanded obedience and she submitted.

As the dawn broke grey and dreary, she noticed an unfamiliar shape beneath her blankets. Pulling them back, a flickering black forked tongue and rattle left no doubt.

“That’s a big one,” said Mithradates, out of nowhere.

“When did you get here?” asked Saphir, never taking her eyes off the venomous serpent. Its tongue shot out continually testing the air.

“I just got here. I was watching you sleep. I was about to wake you. This is a good example of why you should have waited,” said Mithradates.

“I thought you could take a hint. I didn’t need your help.”

“So do you need help now?”

Saphir frowned, inching back ever so slightly. The snake coiled closer.

“It wants your warmth,” said Mithradates, drawing his sword. It was a fine silvery blade with a slight curve, an educated fighting-mans weapon. He stalked to Saphir’s right.

The slit-yellow eyes watched, tail rattling furious.

Saphir twitched and the snake faced her, positioning to strike.

Mithradates’ sword, cold lightning in his hand, separated the snake from its wedge-shaped head.

Leaping back, Saphir kicked the serpent’s body away. “Why did you follow me?”

“Is it so shameful of me? I like you,” he said, extending her a hand.

Ignoring the gesture, she stood and said, “You know nothing about me.”

“I know enough.”

She broke camp and he saddled her horse. “Where is my cat?”

Mithradates shrugged.

Calling for the cat brought no response. Once mounted, Saphir scanned the tall grass and woods beside the camp. A black shape lay lifeless nearby.

Jumping from her horse, Saphir cradled the still thing.

“Looks like the serpent got her,” said Mithradates. He pulled a dagger out and dug a trench. He tenderly took the cat from Saphir, placed it in the grave and covered it over with earth. “I’m sorry. Did it have a name?”

“No,” she whispered. They mounted their horses. “Thank you,” she said, before steeling herself yet again.


“Amazing is it not? Makes the Rameumptom ruins look like a child’s footstool in comparison. And I am a proud Zoramite saying this.”

“I didn’t think saying you were humble as a Zoramite would carry any weight,” laughed Saphir.

They stood on the rim of a great valley, gazing up at the grey stone colossus. The towers shadow forever fell and circled a part of the city of Sherrizah, Saphir imagined the town’s people kept time by the momentous shade.

“Construction began by Sherrizah two hundred years from the sign in the heavens. It took forty years to finish. Old Sherrizah said it would be the greatest temple to the Lord ever. It’s almost too bad the Three Disciples denounced it as a vain abomination to the Lord,” said Mithradates. “But some people just cannot appreciate great art.”

“I know they prophesied it would fall,” said Saphir.

“Nay, good lady, look at it. Resting on the base of a firm hill, its foundation is strong and sure. The tower is a hundred paces square at the bottom and almost twice that in height to the pinnacle, a holy of holies unrealized.”

“Just because Sherrizah built a grand tower doesn’t mean everyone should put their treasures in it,” scoffed Saphir.

“Well, some did. An Interpreter belonging to some old soothsayer or other, treasures of gold and silver, even some records. But it has remained sealed since the builder’s death.”

“It is a monument to nothing,” snapped Saphir. “Everyone knows all the real treasures are hidden elsewhere. All I want is the Interpreter, trade it to ‘the Profit’ for my siblings’ safe return and I’m done.”

Mithradates glanced at her curious. “What about the Gadiantons? They will not let things go.”

“I’ll not let things go either, but first I have to see to their safety,” snapped Saphir. “Let’s ride. I’ve a friend who’ll grant us more information to get inside. If you still want to help me.”

Mithradates smiled. “Of course I do, my lady.”


The Snorting Curelom was not the finest of establishments; torn leather curtains drooped at the windows and an irritating sickly-sweet smell asphyxiated the tavern air. Greasy men played with even grimier cards at all but a few tables as serving girls brought flagons of wine. Pipe-smoke filled the air, nauseating Mithradates and Saphir.

“Why must we wait in this sty?” muttered Mithradates. “This stench may adhere to me permanently.”

“I told my friend I’d be in the seediest tavern, there’s no doubt this is it.” She smiled at his discomfort. “Hasn’t someone of your vocation been in many taverns like this before?”

“Not if I could help it,” said the swordsman. “Look at this fop,” he gestured at a short bug-eyed man walking through the door wearing a ridiculously bright green shirt. “He looks like the deranged offspring of a frog and a Lemuelite.” Surprise struck Mithradates when the man waved to him and came closer.

“That is my friend, Paanchi,” said Saphir. “Be kind to him.”

“Saphir,” greeted Paanchi, “Sorry I’m late. Horses don’t like me you know.” He gave Saphir a hug and eyeballed Mithradates with obvious sourness. “Since when do you need a flamboyant swordsman by your side?”

Saphir frowned. “Paanchi, be nice.”

“Flamboyant? Have you seen your shirt?” shot Mithradates. “And you asked me to be kind to the frogman.”

“Enough, we needn’t draw attention, let’s go outside,” said Saphir.

Paanchi looked down his nose at Mithradates and followed Saphir outside, strutting like a proud hen. They went to the stable to be alone.

As Paanchi pulled scrolls from his saddle bags, Mithradates asked Saphir, “What is his problem?”

“He doesn’t have a problem, he just gets picked on a lot,” she said, as Paanchi opened a scroll.

“This is everything I was able to find on the tower’s plans. I think your usual method will work best, though this is much taller,” he said with genuine concern.

“What is at the top for entry?” asked Saphir.

“The roof is wood, shingled with copper. It’s green with age and could be very slick. I’ll bet you could pull them up smashing your way in,” suggested Paanchi.

“I don’t smash my way into anything.”

“There is a window. I’m sure it’s shuttered and barred, but I know you could get in that way. The top is where the Interpreter should be kept along with any other things of interest,” said Paanchi, pointing at the opened scrolls dust laden drawings.

“Nothing else matters now except the Interpreter and getting the children back. I won’t burden myself with anything else,” said Saphir.

“What is the usual method?” asked Mithradates.

“Ugh, why do you even have this bearded war-monger with you?”

“Paanchi, that’s enough. My business is my own,” snapped Saphir. “He wants to help.” She took the scroll from Paanchi and stared at the ancient inked lines.

Frowning, Mithradates asked, “War-monger? What are you speaking of toadling?”

“You carry a sword,” said Paanchi, shaking his head as if that answered everything.


“So, you are part of the problem. As long as people in this world make and carry swords there will never be peace,” said Paanchi.

Mithradates stifled a chuckle.

“Oh ha-ha, you think I’m funny? He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

“You forget peace-frog, those who don’t live by the sword can die by them too.”

“Some of us prefer to use our minds. We are above such pettiness.”

“She,” Mithradates pointed at Saphir, “carries a pretty big knife, or didn’t you notice?”

“Knives can be used in kitchens. There is only one thing a sword is good for is maiming and hurting other human beings. I don’t hurt people,” said Paanchi.

“You’re trying to hurt my feelings, peace-frog,” laughed Mithradates.

Saphir had been intently studying the drawing of the tower and realized their argument.
“No more either of you!”

“You know I am here to help you, what role does peace-frog play?”

“He is a resident scribe at the library of Hearthom-Hem in Bountiful, and has assisted my acquisitions for many years. Few know more of ancient relics and artifacts than Paanchi, so please, if you can’t be kind, be silent,” said Saphir.

The two men, polar opposites in almost every way conceivable relented and just gave each other frowns the rest of the evening.


Night unfolded with deafening silence and even the boisterous patrons of the Snorting Curelom went quiet by midnight, drowning in their ale or tears. Three shadows traced from the stables toward tower hill. They crept past dozing city watchmen and raccoons stealing garbage. Somewhere a lonely dog howled a mournful tone of doom.

Avoiding moonlit streets, the three came to the backside of the tower’s log palisade wall. The tower didn’t need a palisade wall to defend it but the practice had been traditional since at least the days of Captain Moroni. The only entrance had a pair of guards leaning upon their spears.

“It will be no problem to use them up,” whispered Mithradates.

“See how he is? Sword-wielders, all they do is lust for blood,” said Paanchi.

“I suppose peace-frog, you would rather I say I cannot handle them.”


“Silence,” intoned Saphir. She didn’t like that Mithradates used the slang of assassins but it was just talk.

“Besides, I never said kill. I could just cripple them.”

“Why must it involve pain?”

“Silence,” ordered Saphir. “We stick to the plan. Mithradates and I will take them out, you will keep watch, Paanchi.” Throwing back her cloak, Saphir handed Paanchi her bag of equipment and took a wine bottle and proceeded to act intoxicated and stumble toward the pair of guards. Paanchi stayed where he was, while Mithradates, still enveloped in night, followed closely behind. It made her feel protected knowing he was there.

“Dear friends,” Saphir slurred, “am I glad to see you. Is this where Judge Zebulon lives?” She smiled waving her bottle slightly. Despite her unkempt appearance, her beauty was not lost on the two sleepy guardsmen.

“Afraid not doll, this here is the tower. You best be getting along,” said the first.

The second was still watching her with appreciation.

“Alright have a little bit of a drink with me first, huh?”

“No thank you, mum,” said the first again, “Its against orders, we’re on duty.”

“Ten years we’ve had this post and in ten years how many times has anything happened?” snarled the second. “I’ll tell you never. We’ve a fool’s job we do. Bring it here lass. I’ll have a drink with you.”

She handed him the wine skin which he greedily gulped. The first guardsman almost protested but could see it was too late.

Smiling at Saphira the guard took another pull on the skin and collapsed in a heap. Before the other could believe his own surprise, Mithradates leapt from the darkness like a panther, pummeling the guard into brutal submission.

Sizing up each of them, Mithradates took the one he struck and stripped him of his cloak and helm. He then tied and gagged the man and moved him around the other side of the wall. He propped the drugged guard against the gate so he appeared to be sleeping.
Saphir was grateful for his willingness and even his jealousy of Paanchi’s friendship. It was new to have a man who looked out for you.

Paanchi arrived putting the cloak and helm on. Not an imposing guardsman by anyone’s standards but in the dark he would at least seem conscious. He placed a blue lens in front of a slot on his lamp so he could signal Saphir if need be.

Saphir and Mithradates raced up the steps. The dark tower reached into the night above them making all seem insignificant before it. A great oaken door was wrapped with bands of iron, rusting at the edges. The lock mocked them, its size was stunning.

“At least we can tell none has opened it.”

“It’s as I hoped,” said Saphir, digging into her pack and producing curious iron implements.

“So that is your secret,” mused Mithradates. “Climbing gear beyond anything I have ever seen.”

“They are my own special design, nothing else is even close.”

Two feet pieces went over her buckskin boots. These had thin forks of iron protruding from the toe kicks. Upon her hands she had gauntlets with claw-like appendages that were still narrow enough to fit into the tiny crevices in the stone tower.

“You have done this many times?”

“Yes, but never anything this tall. It will take all my strength to reach the top.”

“You could let me try.”

“No, my family, my duty. I’ll come down the stairs and out when I’m done.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

Saphir didn’t know if she was caught up in the excitement of the greatest thievery ever yet attempted or if she was truly feeling something for him but she turned and kissed him before attacking the wall.

Taken aback he responded in surprise.

All the way up the staggering wall, she pondered why she had done such a thing. Left foot in crevice and why had she done that? Right hand up and pull and what a fool she was echoed again and again.

Twice on the ascent she had to stop and rest, clinging to the cool stone for a few moments. That no one had been where she was since it was constructed, was a sobering thought. Looking down she could faintly see Mithradates watching her. Paanchi was almost invisible beside the lamplight.

In a rhythm she forged ahead, surprising herself when she struck her head on the eve of the overhanging roofline. Having to go sideways about the tower she came to the shuttered window. The green paint was sun-faded rendering it almost unrecognizable.

This was the hardest spot for her to have purchase on the tower and pushing on the shutter almost made her lose balance with the crevices, but then a snap inside sent the shutters flying inward.

Clambering inside, she could see the bar had dry-rotted and snapped with her pressure.
Taking off her climbing gear she adjusted to the gloom and was amazed. The chamber was filled with everything from stacks of senines and limnahs, to chests overflowing from Sherrizah’s investors. More wealth sat forgotten here than she had ever seen before.

Lighting a wall sconce, Saphir gazed over the chamber looking for the Interpreter. Against the far wall a box looked out of place among the treasures. A power emanated from within. Opening the lid, a clear egg-shaped stone lay upon a purple cloth.

Holding the stone up she could see the brass coins hidden amongst the gold and silver, the dross covered by a veneer of precious metal. Near everything here was a counterfeit or fake, even the tower itself was not so sturdy as it appeared. The weakness in the foundation was readily apparent.

She wondered if the stone could show her truth. Saphir felt a shock coursing through her. She remembered her first bits of thievery in the Zarahemla market, the first apple she took, first purse of gold she filched, first kiss she stole. All came in a wave consuming her. She then remembered her parent’s love, their hope expressed when she was young. What they taught her mattered again.

Saphir went down the steps in a daze, until faced with the door. Turning the massive ingenious lock took effort and it spun about as she pushed it asunder. Curious, things could be locked in?

Swinging the door open, she faced Mithradates.

Saphir held the stone up to look and saw the darkness wafting from him like smoke.

“You did it. You took my family away, you even killed my cat,” she gasped.

His face, once a mask of stone, curled into a sinister smile. “That is a useful tool. I was right to plan this.”

“If you desire it, give me back my family.”

“I can’t. I sold them into slavery. They’re down the Sidon by now to Tarshish or Gad.” He laughed and drew his sword. “Give me the Interpreter.”

“No. I need it to find them.”

“Fool girl, give it or die.”

“You mean to do that anyway.”

His lips curled. “Yes.”

They stood facing one another in impasse.

Then a creak gave away Paanchi’s attack. He tackled Mithradates from behind, knocking him forward but by not out of the fight. The bigger man turned, cutting Paanchi across the ribs. Wheeling back to Saphir, he blocked her thrown knife with nary a moment to lose.

“You can’t beat me,” he said kicking Paanchi, while staring daggers at Saphir.

“Why,” she whispered.

“I wanted to see what you could do, so many tales sing of your cleverness and glorify you. I didn’t believe them.”

“Do you now?”

“Ha, no. Queen of Thieves, my Cumom.”

“Alright, you can have the stone,” she said.

“No,” muttered Paanchi.

Mithradates cocked an eyebrow at her surrender. “Keep your hands where I can see them. No hidden daggers or tricks.”

“You see my hands.”

He stepped closer and reached. She flung the stone in his face and took his hand in a wrist lock, wrenching him inside the tower while still dazed. Slamming the mammoth door shut, she breathed and waited. The lock was flipped and Mithradates was sealed inside.

Muffled poundings availed nothing and he went silent.

Saphir picked up the Interpreter then helped Paanchi up. “You alright?”

“I think so, it’s not deep.”

Saphir studied the stone then looked to Paanchi, her eyes a new resolve. “Good. Let’s wake the town to the prisoner inside and be away. The stone says, the children are in Tarshish. We should find them in a week and heaven help their jailers,” said Saphir, brandishing Mithradates sword.

Paanchi nodded. “Where are your climbing shoes?”


24: Unexpected Warriors

by Karlene Browning

“Liamnihah, return home now!” Liam’s father looked like a tiny figure in the distance, but his voice carried through the air all the way from their home to the pond.

“Liam, was that your father bellowing for you?” asked Sheresh, leaning over to bump Yoran in the side.

Liam shrugged at his two best friends. Lately, his father was always yelling for him. Liam roused himself from the tall summer grass where he and his friends were lounging, watching Zera and the other girls doing laundry in the pond. The three friends were discussing the rumors that were flying about the war with the Lamanites, having already filled their water skins from the spring that fed into the pond. Watching the girls and talking about war had become part of their morning routine since the Lamanites had stolen their sheep and forced them to pasture what was left of their herds nearer to their homes.

Squatting, Liam picked up the leather strap of his water yoke and draped it over his left shoulder. Then he picked up the strap of the other yoke and draped it over his right shoulder. He seldom made it back to the farm with all four water skins full of water, but he generally made it with enough that he did not have to make a second trip. Liam hated making a second trip. It was such a waste of time.

Still squatting, Liam put one foot behind the other, feeling it sink into the soft dirt beneath the damp grass. Legs shaking like a newborn lamb, he pushed himself up, balancing the overly full buckets on either side of his body.

“Yeh, Liam,” said Yoran, a sneer on his face. “Your father sounds very angry. What did you do this time? Leave the sheep pen open again?”

Liam ignored Yoran. Friend or no, Yoran had a sharp tongue. It did no good to argue with him. One more backward step, careful not to overbalance. Then Liam turned to the right, facing the one gap in the rock wall ringing the pond that was wide enough for him to get his four buckets through. Easy. Except for the lock of hair that fell down into his eyes. Late for his chores, Liam had run out of the house, grabbed up the water yokes and tore down to the pond. He was halfway there before he realized he had forgotten to push his hair back in a headband. Typical. He was always forgetting. And always paying for it, usually by tripping over a clump of grass he did not notice through the strings of hair in his face.

“Here, sheepy, sheepy. Liam wants his sheepy back,” Yoran teased, his voice an octave higher. Again, Liam ignored him, stepping toward the gap in the rock wall with care.

Liam had been the last to get to the pond this morning. As usual. Sheresh and Yoran had already made one trip to the pond before he arrived. Liam was even later than usual today because he had slept in. He had worked late into the night on a stool for his mother. It was his own design, with a small, raised back for his mother to lean against while she did her embroidery work, and a flat bar connecting two of the legs in front, where she could rest her feet. The intricately carved back was taking some time but he wanted to get it perfect. Not only would it be a great surprise for his mother but it would show his father that he was ready for the apprenticeship. He would not be a sheep boy forever.

“Let it go, Yoran,” said Sheresh.

“Shut it, Sheresh. If you know what is good for you,” said Yoran, glaring at Sheresh. “It is Liam who let those stupid Lamanite thieves get our sheep.”

“Stars above, Yoran! What was he supposed to do? Fight all of them by himself? And where were you, anyway? You were supposed to be helping him, not sweet talking Zera over at the marketplace.” Sheresh reached out and gave Yoran a shove, causing some of the water in one of Yoran’s pails to slosh over the top.

“I said shut up before I punch you in the—”

“Never mind, Sheresh,” said Liam, stopping for a moment to look back at his friends. “Yoran is right. It was my fault. I will see you tomorrow.” Liam cared less about Yoran’s comments than he did about getting the four water skins safely back to the sheep pen.

# # #

The evening meal was Liam’s favorite—lamb stew so thick you could scoop it up with flattened corn cakes. Liam loved his mother’s corn cakes. She added a pinch of dried red pepper to give them a slight bite that tasted wondrous combined with the savory stew. He had eaten too much and now his stomach was groaning in pain. He had thought once to stay and laze in the house but his determination to finish the stool before harvest time pushed him out the door to the makeshift stall where his secret project waited.

Liam was struggling with the groove of a jasmine blossom. The wood grain in this one spot on the backrest was being defiant. There must have been a gnarl hidden just below the surface of the capirona wood. A groove had split and now he was trying to turn it into a curl, to make it look like an intentional part of the design. Joseph, the woodworker he hoped to apprentice with, had shown him this trick a few weeks ago but Liam had not yet got the hang of it.

Liam stood slowly, shaking the tightness from his legs and rubbing his lower back. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and wiped the sweat from his brow as he exLiamed his night’s work. Not bad. He had fixed the groove and added three more jasmine blooms to the cluster. His scrutiny was interrupted by a cough behind him. Liam turned to see his father leaning against a corner pole of the stall, his muscled frame nearly filling the entire opening, the edge of the thatched roof brushing the top of his head. Had his father been watching him as he carved? He never came to watch Liam work the wood. He said all that fancy work was a waste of time and good wood. What was he doing out here tonight?

More importantly, how long had he been there? Had he heard Liam say that word that was not really a swearing, but that his father frowned upon? Probably not. His father was not reprimanding him. But then, he had heard his father say that word just this morning. Maybe he was being unusually forgiving tonight.

Liam’s father interrupted the moment of awkward silence with another cough.

“Liamnihah, sorry to interrupt your work.” Sorry? Liam could count on one finger the number of times his father had said he was sorry for something. Except to his mother. Father always apologized to Mother, even when he was not at fault.

Liam stood, placing his awl carefully on the seat of the stool. Something had to be wrong if his father was acting this much out of character. “What is it? Is Mama hurt? Baby Anna?”

“No, your mother and sister are fine. We need to go to the marketplace.”
“Now? This late in the day? All the stalls will be closed.”

“Not to barter. For a meeting. A chasqui came with a summons—all men and boys above twelve years are to meet at the council hall in the temple yard.”

The rumors were right, then. The time had come. As Liam and his father made the walk from their home at the far edge of town to the temple yard, he worried about what might happen. For most of his life, war had been threatening between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Lamanites were angry because the Nephites had given Liam’s people refuge.

“Liamnihah, stop that.” His father interrupted Liam’s thoughts. He had been unconsciously kicking a rock down the dirt road as they walked and the last kick had sent the rock flying into his father’s ankle. Oops.

The sun was setting on the road behind them, casting their long shadows into the soft glow ahead of them. Liam stepped forward a few paces so that his shadow’s head was just above that of his father’s. I am bigger than you, he had taunted when he was a child. Even though he no longer said the words, his father knew full well what Liam meant by the move. It was juvenile but he liked doing it anyway. Besides he was only thirteen. He could get away with it. For a few minutes.

Liam awaited his father’s usual comment that would put him back in his place. When it did not come, he dropped back by his father’s side. Father must be more unsettled about this meeting than he had realized.

To say the Lamanites were angry was like calling an enraged puma a hairless palace cat. Their anger had simmered for a while but now it was a rolling boil. The thought made Liam’s stomach churn. Lately, the Lamanites had stepped up their advances and attacks. They were burning crops, stealing sheep, attacking small communities, and butchering women and children right along with the men at arms. Captain Moroni and his armies were doing their best to meet the Lamanites, but they were stretched thin protecting Liam’s people—the People of Ammon. Rumor said it was only a matter of time before the entire countryside was embroiled in a war.

Liam knew his father was caught between two hands. On the one hand, he, like all the People of Ammon, had buried his weapons of war. He had covenanted with the Lord never to take up the sword again—not even to defend his own life. Liam was sure his father was at peace with that part of it. In fact, he had lectured Liam on the evils of war and physical violence all his days. But defending the lives of his wife and children? Defending the Nephites who had been so generous? That was the other hand.

Father chafed at having the Nephites fight his battles. His people were the reason for this war. His people were a weak link. His people required Nephite armies, Nephite lives, to protect them from the Lamanite advances. Although they supported the troops with food and supplies, the blood of the Nephites was being spilt for his people and he could not stop it. He could not help.

More than once, Liam had listened from the shadows while his father and the other men in the village had discussed their convictions, their desire to do something more. He had heard the arguments for breaking the covenant and taking up arms to fight alongside Captain Moroni, Helaman and the other Nephite warriors. None of them liked the idea but they did not know what else to do. Father had argued against it, but some of them, particularly Yaron’s father, had argued quite convincingly for it. This meeting would likely settle that argument, once and for all.

# # #

“You know what this is about?” asked Sheresh. The adult men were gathered in the limestone council hall at the edge of the temple yard where they held their community meetings. The young men waited in the outer garden, clustered in small groups, pretending not to be worried or concerned about the raised voices that occasionally drifted out through the open windows into the gathering darkness.

Liam took a deep breath. The scent of garden citrus and night-blooming jasmine that flooded his nose seemed to calm his troubled stomach. He nodded. “The war.”

“My dad says it is time to take a stand,” said Yaron. “We have got to fight or the Lamanites will kill most of us and make slaves of the rest.”

“But what about the covenant?” asked Liam.

“It is not for our sake that we would take up the sword. Not really,” replied Yaron. “It is for the Nephites, for the women and children. Moroni needs more men. We would not fight only to save ourselves.”
“Oh, right,” said Sheresh. “You just keep telling yourself that.”

Liam had to chuckle, despite the nervous cramping in his stomach. Yaron seemed just a bit too eager for war and Sheresh enjoyed ‘correcting’ him.

“Me? I think I will keep the covenant,” Sheresh continued. “Not that I personally made it. I was not born yet. But my father made the covenant and I will stand beside him. Or die beside him.”

“You are such a sheep-tailed know-it-all, Sheresh.” Yaron had to have the last word. “What about you, Liam? Sword up or sword down?”

“Uh, I…” Liam wondered. What would he do? Here in the relative calm of his community, it was easy to say that he would keep the covenant he had come to believe in with all his heart. But in the moment of challenge? If a Lamanite came into his home, threatened his mother and sister, what would he do? Would he have the strength to stand firm in the covenant and let them die? Or would he pick up his mother’s chopping knife and defend them with all his might? And if he fought for his own family, should he not also be willing to fight for the families of his friends?

“I do not know,” Liam said, his voice soft with emotion.

Sheresh and Yaron looked at him, for once their own honest emotion exposed in their faces. They were as conflicted and confused as he was.
The moment was interrupted as Yaron’s father called the young men inside the council hall. As the boys searched for their fathers, Liam guessed there were nearly five hundred men and boys in the room. He could smell the unpleasant tang of nervous sweat. There was a low hum of dissatisfied voices. Had the men not come to an agreement?
Liam and Sheresh joined a small group of men near the front of the room that included their fathers and Sheresh’s older brothers. A few moments later, Yaron and his father came to stand with them. Liam felt his shoulders tighten as he waited, knowing that what came next would change their lives forever. He could sense that same knowledge settle on his friends.

There was a stirring in the crowd, then a gasp from the young men as Helaman, a favored leader in Captain Moroni’s army, walked purposefully to the front of the gathering. He stepped up on a wooden box so that all could see and hear him. Liam stole a glance at Sheresh and Yaron, who both looked as astonished as he felt. None of them had heard a whisper that Helaman was coming here.

“My dear brothers in the Lord,” said Helaman, “for you are indeed my brothers now, although once, in the beginning, you were Lamanites. But by the power and the word of God, as taught to you by Ammon and his brethren, you were converted unto the Lord. You were brought down to the land of Zarahemla, and given a place amongst us, and have become our brethren.”

A chorus of amens went through the room. It was clear the older men felt an abiding brotherhood with this man and with the Nephites who had granted them asylum.

“I understand the sorrows of your hearts,” Helaman continued. “You have been protected by the Nephites for lo, these many years. And because of your oath to the Lord, your covenant to never more shed the blood of your fellowman, you have been kept from taking up arms against the Lamanites. I know that you are strong in your faith and that you would suffer yourselves to be slain rather than to take up arms.

“I also know that because of the many afflictions and tribulations and dangers that the Nephites bear for your sakes, you are moved with compassion. I know that you are desirous to defend your country, to fight for our lives, to once again take up weapons of war for our sakes.”
Once again a chorus of amens and yeses echoed through the room. Several men, Liam’s father included, brushed at their eyes. It was unnerving to see this strong, gruff man so undone by emotion, his breathing quick and shallow and his lip trembling. For the first time, Liam realized how heart-deep his father’s struggle with this issue truly was.

“But I say to you, do not. Do not break your oath, for I fear that by doing so, you shall lose your souls. Captain Moroni and I and many others have spent much time in fasting and prayer on this subject and we know the Lord will answer our prayers with a solution. But please, I beg of you from the depths of my heart, do not break your covenant.”

Helaman looked about the gathered men, as if he expected an answer to burst forth at any moment. The silence in the room was as heavy as wet alpaca fur. Liam was looking down, noticing the hardness of the limestone floor as it pressed against his sandaled feet, when he felt Sheresh stirring beside him. He turned to face his friend. Sheresh’s mouth formed an oval, his brows arched high above shining eyes. His cheeks were flushed, almost fevered with excitement.

“I did not,” said Sheresh, in a quiet voice that could only be heard by those standing close by.

“Did not what?” Liam asked, noticing as he said it that Yaron had a strange smile on his face, as if he were part of a secret joke that only he and Sheresh knew.

“I did not make the oath!” said Sheresh, this time speaking loud enough that his voice carried through the otherwise silent room.

All eyes turned their direction, shock mirrored on every face, including Helaman’s. Lines too deep for a man of his young age creased his brow. The corners of his mouth turned down and he shook his head from side to side. He closed his eyes for a moment, bowing his head as if in prayer. The hall remained silent—everyone too stunned to speak. Then Helaman groaned, lifting his head and opening his eyes.

“That is not the answer I expected,” said Helaman. He looked out over the group, studying them, perhaps looking for another answer, another solution. None was offered.

“Fathers, it is true. You have many good and strong sons who have been raised in the faith of the Lord. These sons were too young to enter into the covenant with you. Some of them had not yet been born.”

A low murmur began. This time there were no amens offered. Fathers and sons moved closer together as the meaning of Helaman’s words began to dawn on them. Helaman waited a beat for the whispering to die down.

Helaman’s voice rang out. “Let your sons, if they are willing, enter into a new covenant to take up arms, to fight for the liberty of our people, to protect their land and their families, even unto the laying down of their lives.”

Once again Helaman surveyed the group, searching out the faces of the younger men.

“I promise you,” he continued, his voice softer. “I promise you, this group of young men will become my own sons, my own army of warriors. I will teach them and train them, guide them into battle, succor them, and return as many of them to you as I am able.”

“Dear fathers. My young sons. My future stripling warriors. Return to your homes and make this a matter of prayer within your families. If you are willing to do this, to enter into this covenant, then I bid you meet here again at dawn, ready to march.”

The murmuring within the crowd became a rumble as Helaman stepped down from the wooden box and left the room. Some of the fathers were clearly angry. Others had tears streLiamg down their cheeks. Most, however, were silent as they filed out of the hall and began to return to their homes.

# # #

Liam tossed on his pallet, pulling the blankets up to his chin. There was no way he would sleep this night. He had stolen glances at his father during the silent walk home. It had been too dark to see his father’s face but he could hear an occasional sniff and cough, signs that his father was working through strong emotions.

Liam was too stunned for emotion. He had never expected this. Not in his wildest imagination. Not really. Although he and his friends had talked about fighting, they were stories fueled by boasting and bluff. Liam had never really expected he would be called upon to go to war. He had been prepared to say goodbye to his father, to shoulder the extra responsibility to keep the farm running in his father’s absence. But to leave himself? To fight? To kill?

Liam tossed again in the darkness. What was he to do? He had prayed until his throat ached and tears flowed, begging for direction, pleading with the Lord to let him stay home with his family—but the heavens were silent tonight. He stretched his arms above his head, gently pulling the too tight muscles of his back. Then he put his hands to his pounding temples. This was no good.

Maybe he should get up and work on the stool. He needed only to add one more cluster of jasmine, some ivy leaves and a few swirls to the design on the backrest. No. He would never finish it in one night. If he went with Helaman, the stool would have to wait until the war was over—just one more of a hundred reasons for him not to go.

The blanket hanging over the doorway to his bedchamber slid sideways and a pale light from an oil lamp peeked through the gap. Liam’s mother slipped in silently, letting the blanket fall back in place behind her. She sat on the floor beside his pallet, putting her head down next to his, her long dark hair spilling against Liam’s shoulder. For a moment, Liam breathed in the slight scent of jasmine that always accompanied his mother. Her favorite flower.

“Mamaí, what should I do?” he asked.

There was no answer, although he could feel her arms tighten up as she lay next to him. After several long minutes, she spoke.

“Liam, you have been taught all your life to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before Him. You are strong in the faith, valiant, and courageous. Do what the Lord tells you to do in this matter.”

She snuggled closer to Liam for a moment, then kissed his cheek and stood up. “Your father and I will honor your decision.”

As she paused at the doorway, she said, “If you choose to go, you will be in the Lord’s hands. I know it.” Then she was gone and the room was once again in darkness.

Liam rolled onto his side, then knelt on his pallet. He prayed more powerfully and sincerely than he had ever prayed in his life. No more tears. No more begging and pleading. He asked for clear direction, praying only to know God’s will and for the courage to carry it out.

It was nearly dawn before Liam had his answer, but when it came, he was sure of it.

# # #

The sky was the silver gray of pre-dawn as Liam walked back to the council hall. Mamaí walked beside him with her arm around his waist. Father carried Anna on his shoulders. They had all risen early that morning to help him prepare to leave. Liam carried a small goatskin bag slung over his shoulder containing a change of clothing and enough bread, cheese, dried meat, guavas and pears to last four days. A filled water skin hung from a belt tied around his waist. He had no weapon yet but father had given him a sturdy walking stick that could act as a defense in a pinch.

Liam tried to memorize every sensation on the way to town—from the scent of jasmine in his mother’s hair, to Anna’s giggle, to his father’s heavy tread on the dirt road. He noticed a flash of emerald green as a hummingbird swooped past him on its way to some bright yellow lilies that were not yet fully opened.

“It is early in the day for hummingbirds,” said Mamaí and squeezed his arm.

As they neared the marketplace at the center of town, Liam heard an orange-headed tunki chirrup. It serenaded them from an avocado tree. Anna clapped her hands. Liam wanted to share in her delight but his stomach was churning even more than the night before. All he could think of was how ill prepared he was. Other than wrestling with his friends, he had no fighting skills. Helaman would surely be disappointed.

The marketplace was filled to overflowing with families saying their goodbyes. There were people in the council hall, in the temple yard, and in the garden. Helaman was by the council hall, overseeing the loading of a number of alpacas and carts with supplies. It looked like they were nearly done. Liam had never seen so many people gathered here all at one time.

Liam’s father handed Anna down off his shoulders to Mamaí. “Liamnihah—Liam. I am proud of you, son.” For the first time in months, his father gathered him in his arms, giving him a hug that squeezed the breath out of his lungs. Liam was not complaining. He hugged him back.

Mamaí took a turn as well, her eyes filled with tears. After a long embrace, she stepped back and pushed Liam’s hair out of his eyes. Then she drew his favorite headband from her pocket and slipped it over his brow, smoothing his hair flat. Any other day, Liam would feel like a baby letting his mother fix his hair in the marketplace, but today he did not mind.

“About time you got here, llama-spit,” said a voice behind Liam, accompanied by a smack on the back of his head. Sheresh was in high spirits.

“Are we ready then?” asked Liam.

“Almost. We are supposed to meet in the council hall for a few words from Helaman.”

The two boys walked into the hall together, followed by their families. The young men were gathered in the center of the hall, while parents, siblings and others lined the walls. It was crowded and noisy. Liam spotted Yoran in a corner talking with Zera. Her face was tipped up toward his, so close their noses almost touched. Liam wondered if Yoran would steal a kiss before he left.

Helaman entered the hall bringing silence with him. The only sound was the shuffling of bodies as he made his way to the front. Yaron joined Liam and Sheresh near the middle of the group.

“So did you kiss her?” Liam whispered. It was a stupid thing to say, but it broke the silence as some of the young men around them overheard and laughed nervously.

Yaron mustered a grin and moved his eyebrows up and down.

“Alpaca-breath,” Sheresh muttered.

Helaman stepped up on the wooden box where he had stood the night before.

“I thank the Lord that so many of you have come to fight for your country, your people. Although our stripling army is small, I know we will add to our numbers as we pass through other towns on our way to aid Judea. Those of faith will join us because we uphold the cause of freedom and God is on our side. I promise that if you are true to your faith, you will be a great aide in this battle to keep us free.”

Helaman looked into the faces of the young men. “May God bless you,” he said. He raised his fist into the air. “To liberty?”

“To liberty!” echoed through the room as the young men punched their fists into the air, determined resolve on every face.

Liam did not know what the future held for him. None of them did. He might never see his town again, or his family. He might be injured. He most likely would be killed. But he could not deny the feeling of peace that had come to him in the early hours before dawn. This was what God wanted him to do.
Liam looked at Sheresh, then at Yaron. The three friends smiled, then stepped forward to follow Helaman out of the hall.

23: More Blessed Are They

Marih pounded the mallet rhythmically against the sides of the stone basin. With each strike, the pile of grain inside shrunk in size and bulk. Marih watched as the heavy stone mallet she wielded changed each kernel to nothing but chaff and dust.

Although the day was hot, it was cool in the shaded storage lean-to at the side of Marih’s family hut. The thick walls of woven grasses that made the cooking area inside oppressive in the heat didn’t exist in the lean-to. Marih was glad that Mother had sent her outside to work. She needed time to think and some space from the women’s gossip that was guaranteed to coat the kitchen on cooking day.

Normally Marih loved to hear the grown women, her mother’s friends, talk on cooking day. It was interesting to hear them talk of their families and their work. Marih had learned so much from their talk that she wondered if her mother had volunteered to provide the gathering place on cooking day for Marih’s benefit. From the women’s talk, she knew just the right day to plant sweet herbs. She knew how many stones to circle in a fire ring for the best luck. From the women’s talk, she knew how to bathe a newborn baby and how much was too much for a father to ask in a betrothal settlement. Marih had learned all these things on cooking days, things that without older or younger siblings and no grandmothers she may have never learned.

Once Marih asked her mother why she didn’t have a brother or sister. Mother’s look grew sad, as sad as the day when Marih was very little when her father buried her last grandmother, and then Mother said, “It was not the will of God.” The tears in her mother’s eyes made Marih promise herself never to ask that question again.

But it had been months since Marih had enjoyed the cooking day gossip. The change came suddenly as the topic of the women’s conversation had all at once shifted from the usual complaints and suggestions about husbands and children to a new theme: what had happened when He came, what He had said, and when He would come again. And over and over again, as Marih listened from the storage lean-to, from the garden, or while hovering in the yard she asked herself the same questions: How had she missed Him? Why hadn’t He come to her?

Marih pounded the mallet on the side of the basin to shake off the clinging particles. She used a gourd to scoop the flour into the meal bag. Mother would be expecting the ground meal any moment to help cook their portion of the meal cakes for the week, but instead of carrying the sack to the cooking area inside, Marih searched around for something to keep her outside of the hot hut and away from the voices she was trying to ignore.

“That boy is just stronger and stronger every day,” Nihma, a woman about Marih’s mother’s age said. “I never thought I’d ever see my son work the fields alongside his father, but off he goes each morning. He still comes home early in the afternoon, but he could do that his whole life and I’d never complain.”

“It was your son, then, the one that was once crippled?” Gilan, a younger woman asked.

“Yes,” Nihma replied. Marih could almost hear her broad smile as she spoke. “That boy’s legs were crooked from the minute he was born. The midwife said that he wouldn’t last a week, but he did just the same, and he made it all the way to sixteen. Now he’s a strong, healthy, normal boy for the first time, thanks to the Master.”

“I’ll never forget it, as long as I live,” said Ama, an elderly woman who had been coming to cooking day for a long time. “‘My bowels are filled with compassion towards you,’ He said. ‘Bring them hither and I will heal them,’ and He did!”

The kitchen fell into a silent hush. Marih looked off into the distance towards Bountiful, where He had come, where all these miracles had happened. She loved to listen to the stories and wished herself far away every time they talked about Him, all at the same time. She believed what had happened. She believed that He had really come, just as the prophets and said for hundreds of years, but she wondered why He hadn’t come to her. Why had she been missed?

“Kallai,” Nihma, the mother of the crippled boy, called to Marih’s mother. The sound made Marih start and she heard the women in the kitchen set to work again. “Where is that girl of yours? I’m ready to add the meal.”

“She has been a while,” Marih heard her mother say. “Marih?” she called.

Marih scrambled around, trying to remember what she was doing, grabbed the sack of grain, and started for the open door.

“Thank you, dear, was it harder than normal?” her mother asked as Marih placed the flour on a table.

“No, I—” Marih looked into her mother’s face. Her eyes searched Marih’s, but she spared Marih from needing an excuse.

“Would you like to help here?” Mother asked.

Marih looked down. She was glad the other women were too busy with their own tasks to notice her hesitancy.

“Why don’t you bring your father his lunch?” Mother suggested instead.

Marih smiled briefly and nodded. The lunch basket sat in the corner. She took it and left the hut. As she moved away from the cooking women, she heard just a few last snatches of their conversation: “Hunger and thirst after righteousness,” they said. “The salt of the earth.”

Marih sighed and kicked at the dust in the road. She wanted to be happy. She wanted to rejoice with everyone else about what had happened. She wanted to be changed too.

Everyone was changed. All everyone talked about was Him and what He said. Marih loved that. She felt good about everything He said. She never wanted to stop listening, until she remembered how He hadn’t come to her.

“I was tending you inside the hut,” Marih’s mother had explained. “Your father had just finished healing from the nasty gash on his head from the earthquake when you fell ill with fever. It had been two days since you had opened your eyes, and we were so worried.

“Your sleep was so fitful, and I couldn’t keep dry sheets beneath you, you were sweating through them so fast. I was praying by your bedside that God would spare you when I heard a soft whisper answering me.”

“What was it?” Marih asked.

“I didn’t know,” her mother said. “I opened my eyes and looked around for your father, but it was his first day back in the fields. Then the voice came again. I went outside, and saw all of the others staring around too. They were pointing towards Bountiful, towards the temple, and we all started heading there.

“I can’t believe I left you like that,” Marih’s mother continued. “I don’t know what came over me. I guess somehow I knew that everything would be all right, and I knew I had to get to the temple.”

“What was it like?” Marih had asked at least a hundred times. “When you got to the temple and saw Him—what was He like?”

“It was—” Marih’s mother paused each time she answered this question, searching for the right word, “it was wonderful.” Her mother sighed. Marih had heard the story of seeing Him, of touching Him, so many times before. “Then when I came back to you,” her mother finished, “the fever was gone.”

As Marih continued along the road towards the fields, she felt that familiar sting in her eyes as she remembered her mother’s words: “It was wonderful.”

Marih clutched the lunch basket tighter and tried to focus on something else, anything else, but everything reminded her how she had been left behind, how He must not have cared. She passed dozens of people whose kind acts and shining faces showed how much He had changed them—former misers who were now full of generosity, previously bickering couples serving each other, and the once forlorn elderly now full of hope. They talked of “treasures in heaven,” forgiveness, and faith.

Then there were the children. The children she passed on the way to the fields waved and said hello to her. Marih tried to give them smiles in return, but it was hard to think that they had all been there, all but her. He had prayed for them, blessed them, and wept over them, all but her.

“What was it like?” she asked that same question to her friend Amar when he visited as she was recovering from the fever. “The fire, and the angels?”

Amar looked at the wall beyond Marih’s bedside for a long moment before he spoke. “It didn’t feel like fire,” he said, “not like the fire we can make. It felt more like glowing. And the angels, they were people. Looking into their faces, it was like they knew me although I had never seen them before. And everything about them shone with light.”

Marih was approaching the fields. She shielded her eyes from the high sun and scanned the working shapes to find her father. He was sitting in the shade of the tree with several other men who were waiting for their lunches.

“Looks like your lucky day, Shemnon” one of the men said to Marih’s father as she approached.

“Come, Lenhi,” Marih’s father laughed, “it looks like your girl is on her way as well. Remember, life is ‘more than meat, and the body than raiment.’”

It sounded like some sort of joke, but the men didn’t laugh. They smiled knowingly and nodded their heads. They knew her father was quoting Him.

“And how is cooking day?” her father asked.

“Fine,” Marih answered.

“We’ve seen Shimik, Nihma’s son, working the fields in the morning,” one man said. “She must be very grateful.”

“She is,” Marih agreed, “she mentions it all the time.”

The men nodded. Marih could see the remembrance in their eyes. They knew what it was like.

Marih took her time going home from the fields. She wanted to wait until cooking day was over, and she wanted to keep to her own thoughts for a while. When she reached the hut again, the other women had gone home to start their suppers and make things ready before the sun went down. Mother sat by the window weaving.

“How were the fields today?” she asked Marih.

“The men said the land was healing, that maybe the earthquake would make the farms more fruitful.”

Marih’s mother smiled. Marih could tell that she believed that it was true—that the land was healed and that even the earthquakes turned into a blessing.

When Marih looked back, her mother’s smile had faded. “Marih,” she asked, “what’s wrong? You’re stronger than ever now, but you’re still not yourself.”

Marih sat on a stool at her mother’s side and started re-rolling a bundle of yarn. “You already know, Mother,” she said. “I am trying to have faith. I am grateful that my fever was healed when He came, but I still don’t understand why I couldn’t be there.”

Her mother sighed. “If I would have known what this would mean to you, I would have done anything to bring you back,” she said again. “When we came back that night and you were sleeping peacefully, we were so grateful that we forgot about everything else. The next day, your father returned to the temple, but you were still so weak that I stayed here with you.”

Marih twisted the soft yarn in her hands. “I know, Mother. You did right. I just still wish I could have seen Him.”

Later that night, after their evening meal and reading of the scriptures, Marih’s father called her to his side.

“You are much too troubled, daughter,” he said.

Marih looked up at him. She didn’t have to explain to him once again. As a quiet tear rolled down her cheek, he scooped her up, big as she was at thirteen, and held her close.

“Tomorrow, Marih,” he said, “I want to take you to Nephi.”

Marih looked into his face. “The prophet?” she asked.

“Yes. Nephi was chosen by the Lord himself. I know you feel like He forgot you, dearest, but I think talking to Nephi will help.”

Her father fulfilled his promise the next day. Instead of leaving for the fields in the morning with the other men, he washed and dressed and started on the several mile journey with her to the temple.

“Why would the prophet want to see me?” Marih asked. “Isn’t he too busy?”

“I’ve told him about you,” her father said.

“You have?” Marih was surprised.

Her father smiled. “Marih,” he said. “Remember how before the earthquakes a lot of people in the village were angry?”

Marih shuddered. She didn’t like to think about things before the earthquakes. Times were hard then.

“But He said,” her father continued, “‘There shall be no disputations among you.’”

“‘He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,’” Marih finished for him.

“Exactly,” Marih’s father smiled.

“But what does that have to do with Nephi? Others have changed, but he’s always been good.”

“Why have they changed, Marih?”

Marih thought. She knew that the words of Jesus made her feel kind and like doing good. “Because He taught them how?” she asked.

“Yes,” her father agreed. “He taught them how, and He taught them to be like Him: ‘I would that ye should be perfect, even as I.’”

Marih’s brow wrinkled. She still didn’t quite understand what Father was saying.

“Jesus changed us because He taught us to be like Him,” her father said.

“But how will seeing Nephi help me?” Marih asked.

“Because Nephi, just like everybody else, has become more like Him.”

The prophet lived in a hut not far from the temple. Although it was usually a quiet, peaceful place, the temple grounds that day were busy and full of workman who were volunteering their day to repair some of the damage from the earthquakes.

Marih’s father led her to the back door of the hut. “His work desk is on this side,” her father explained as he knocked on the thin door.

“Come in,” Nephi’s voice called.

Marih had seen Nephi before, but not since the Savior had come. He was not an old man, only a few years older than her father, but since she had seen him last he looked wiser somehow. He was sitting at a desk covered in scrolls and writings.

“Shemnon,” Nephi smiled a greeting. “I thought you would come sometime soon.”

“You know about me?” Marih couldn’t help asking in surprise.

“Of course I do. Your father is my friend, and you are his family. I hear all about you.”

Marih felt more at ease than she thought she would. Although Nephi was a prophet, he was very easy to talk to. He pushed the papers he was writing aside and motioned for Marih to come nearer.

“You worry too much for a child,” Nephi said not unkindly.

Marih wanted to say she was thirteen, and not quite a child still, but she felt so silly and small to bring her questions to the prophet that instead she asked, “Why me, Nephi? Why didn’t I see Him?”

Nephi searched her face. He didn’t hurry to answer. “Do you remember the earthquakes?”

“Of course!” Marih exclaimed. It was days and days of destruction and darkness. Marih thought she would never see the sun again.

“Your father was injured,” Nephi pointed to the scar on her father’s forehead, “but others people died.”

Marih had tried to forget how many, but lots of her friends had loved ones who were now gone.

“Why?” Nephi asked.

Marih looked up in surprise. Why was the prophet asking her a question? “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Why did those people die, while others were healed when the Master came?”

Marih shook her head. She had never thought of this before, and she didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know either, Marih,” Nephi said, “and I’m glad.”

“You’re glad that some people died?” Marih was confused.

“No,” Nephi said seriously, “I’m glad that I don’t know why.”

Marih nodded. She realized she was glad too. It would be too complex to know—so many reasons why or why not.

“Do you think that’s the same with me?” she asked. “You don’t know why, and you’re glad?”

Nephi nodded. “But I am also glad that He knows all. He even knows you.”

Marih looked into Nephi’s eyes. She saw truth there and knew that what the prophet said was true. Jesus even knew her.

“You’ve heard a lot of what He taught?” Nephi asked her.

“Yes, very much,” Marih replied.

Nephi smiled. “Your father has told me, and I can tell, that you truly love the Word, child.”

Marih nodded again.

“Do you know what He said about you?” Nephi asked.

“About me?” Marih couldn’t imagine anything the Master could have said about her.

“Yes, you,” Nephi said. “There were special things that Jesus taught, some things that He taught only to us twelve, to me and your father and the others.”

Marih leaned forward, giving Nephi her full attention. She didn’t know this. She thought everyone who was there had heard everything.

“I am writing many of those things now,” Nephi gestured to the scrolls on his writing table, “so that the people will have them as well, but there are some things I think you should know now, Marih. He said, ‘Blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.’”

Marih looked down. How could she be baptized if she hadn’t seen Him?

Nephi continued quoting, “‘And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.’”

Marih’s heart thrilled. Was it true? Was there a place for her to believe, even though she had not seen? She looked up into Nephi’s loving eyes and felt that what her father had said was right—knowing Nephi or anyone else who had been changed was like knowing Him. Nephi was telling her that she could be changed too.

“Marih,” Nephi asked, “do you have faith in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that through His Atonement you can be cleansed from your sins, and do you have a desire to be baptized in His name?”

“Yes,” Marih said, still looking at Nephi, and she meant it with all her heart.

Nephi smiled at her father. “We haven’t had many children baptized yet, but Marih is over the age of eight, and she will be the first of many. I will call to Amos to make sure the dam in the river is in place.”

Marih’s father beamed down at her, but left to her own thoughts. Marih felt warmth and love inside unlike anything she had ever felt before. Being baptized, being called one of the members of the Church of Christ, was what she wanted more than anything. She was happier than she had ever been before; she was already beginning to feel a change.

Nephi had just barely left the hut, but came back again. “Marih?” he asked again. “Have you forgotten about the fire?”

Marih looked up. “You mean the angels?”

Nephi nodded.

Marih didn’t know what to say. She thought about how she was feeling now, and she didn’t feel the sadness about anything anymore.

Nephi continued before she had to respond, “He also said, ‘For they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost.’”

Marih’s smiled broadened. She felt a pricking of tears in her eyes, but tears that went with the swelling of happiness in her heart instead of the sadness that she’d been keeping for so long. “For they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost,” she thought. And she was.

22: Two Thousand Sons and One Daughter

by Emily M.

I did not fidget in the meeting. Much. Besides twirling my hair and tapping my toes, I barely moved at all. It was a long meeting, and I hated having to hush and sit in the back next to Mother, while Ammah was treated as though he were a man. He was fifteen, and a boy, and allowed to participate. I was fourteen, and a girl, so I had to hold my tongue and try to stay still. At least Mother waited with me. We were both too anxious to be at home.

It was Father’s turn to speak. “I cannot allow more Nephites to die without doing something to help,” he said. “I will go and fight the Lamanites. It is time to take up arms again.”

All around him men murmured their support. “They all feel useless,” my mother whispered. “Your father still hates letting others fight his battles.”

Helaman spoke next.“You cannot do this, Kish” he said. “You took a sacred oath.”

“Is the oath more important than watching Nephites die to protect our families?” said Father. “When I took that oath I was alone, not yet married. I want my family to live.”

“You will lose your souls,” Helaman said. He walked up to my father. My father was a large man, who had to duck to enter doorways. Helaman was much shorter. But Helaman grasped him by the shoulders, and looked up into his eyes. “You will lose your souls,” he repeated. “I cannot deny that we need more men to fight, and yet I will not accept your help.”

My father held his gaze for a minute, challenging him, and then nodded. Helaman was the prophet.

“I’ll go,” Ammah said, rising. His voice squeaked at the end. It was changing. I smirked and Mother gave me a look.

“You?” Father said. “You?” He stared at Ammah.

“I made no oath,” Ammah said. “I can fight.” He straightened up, trying to be tall like Father.

Helaman eyed him. Ammah was small for his age, and skinny. I still beat him when Father trained us in sword fighting. Every time. “You?” Helaman said, echoing Father. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, sir,” Ammah said. His voice changed again, going deep. “Fifteen, but Father has taught me how to fight, and I know God will protect me. I have made no oath. I can fight.”

Across the room the other boys raised their hands, too. “I’ll go,” said Shem. And Morianton. And Lamanonhi. All the ones from our village.

Father could not speak for a minute. He looked so proud. “You have restored our honor,” he said finally, his voice breaking like Ammah’s.

Helaman seemed less confident. “How many are there?” he asked. “Where will they get weapons? How can I send a fifteen-year-old boy to fight? Who will lead them?”

“From all the Ammonites, there are around two thousand,” Father said. “We will find weapons somehow. And they are young, but they want to go. Please accept their offering.”

“And you can be our leader,” Ammah said. “Please?”

Helaman looked around at Ammah and all his friends, and at their proud fathers, and said, “How can I refuse?” Ammah cheered, and all his friends did too. Helaman smiled, a pained smile. I felt sorry for him. He hadn’t wanted any Ammonites to fight at all, and now he was the leader of all our sons.

Beside me, Mother wept. “You will be losing Ammah,” I said. “Ammah will die out there. I’m so sorry, Mother. He’s a terrible swordsman. Only the power of God can save him, really.”

“Not that,” she said. “I’m proud of Ammah, and I think he will do well.”

It was my turn to give Mother a look. She looked back. “You always underestimate your brother,” she said. “No, I’m crying because I am grateful to God that your father did not fight again. That is all.”

“Would it be so bad if he did?” I asked. I only knew the Father who worked in our fields, who helped the sheep at lambing time. The one who caught fireflies and released them inside for our private show. I had heard echoes of who he was before, the fierce Lamanite captain, but I had never seen that side of him.

“It would be terrible,” Mother said. “You may not realize that, but it’s true. God will protect Ammah, as He has kept your father from fighting again. God is good to us.”

She still cried. I handed her a bit of cloth for her dripping nose. “Let’s go home,” Mother said. She rose, and held out her hand to lift me up. “They will be all night talking, and there is much to do to get Ammah ready. We should start now.”

We walked home. The corn fields lay still, the fireflies winked at us, and behind us in the meeting the men prepared the boys to go to war. I wondered if God would protect me, a girl, if I went to war. It bothered me to see my younger brother go off to battle clothed in my father’s pride, while I received nothing. If they needed Ammah, I decided, they would surely need me too. I would find a way to join Helaman’s army. Two thousand sons, and one daughter.

If Mother noticed that I prepared Ammah as though he were two people, packing twice the dried fruit, two times the flatbread, she said nothing. She was distracted herself, and went about her day whispering prayers under her breath. Father did not notice either, spending all his time instructing Ammah’s friends on basic fighting skills, because most of their fathers had chosen not to train their sons. Father refused to touch a sword; he used sticks to demonstrate as he taught.

“I should see if Aunt Tia needs anything,” I said loudly while working. “I haven’t been to visit for a while.” Mother’s sister lived in the next village over. If I disappeared, Mother would think I had gone there first, and not come looking until it was too late.

“I think Tia is well,” Mother said. “She only has daughters, no sons to get ready. But she will want to see you and hear our news.”

“I’ll go visit soon,” I said. Mother nodded.

After we prepared Ammah’s food we began getting his clothing ready. Mother took thick leather and stitched it into armor. I did the same, cobbling together castoff bits into something that might, if I was lucky, protect me from the Lamanites.

“What is that you’re doing?” she asked me. We sat outside in the late afternoon, working together. “Ammah will be wearing the armor I make. Whatever you’re making is full of holes. Scraps don’t work well when it comes to armor.”

“It’s better than nothing,” I said. “They may be scraps, but the leather is thick. Some people would be glad to have it.”

“Some people have metal,” Ammah said, walking up to us. Mother raised an eyebrow at him.

“I’m not complaining,” he said quickly. “Just saying, some people have metal, that’s all.”

“And some people have nothing,” she said. “Mariah, put down that armor and go practice with Ammah. He needs to be brought down to size.”

“Go practice with one of the boys,” I told him. “That’s who you’ll be fighting with.”

“Don’t be sulky because you can’t come,” Ammah said. “You’re the only one who can really give me a good fight.”

Ammah knew how to persuade me, and it worked. “All right,” I said. I set down my ragged armor. The turkeys crowded me, but I shooed them away. I found my practice sword, weighted like a real one, strong enough to bruise but not sharp enough to kill.

Ammah pulled out his practice sword and held it ready, fighting stance. He blocked me, and blocked me again, and began to parry with a speed I had never seen from him, until my sword clattered to the ground, landing on my toes.

“Ow,” I yelled, but then I laughed, from the surprise of it. Ammah beat me. He fought as though all the lessons Father had taught him over the years finally sank in. He had never been a natural, until now.

I wanted to be happy for him. Part of me was. Another part, though, was jealous. Not only did Ammah get to go to war, but he now had some divine strength that enabled him to do the impossible: beat me at swordfighting.

Ammah grinned, wiped the sweat from his face, and said, “Two out of three?” But he saw my face and said, “Mariah! Don’t be sad when you don’t win for the first time! Take some lessons in losing well. I never made you feel bad for winning all these years.”

It was true. I shook his damp hand. It felt strong. “Well fought,” I said. “Well done.” I began to doubt, a little, my resolve to join them. God had made Ammah into someone stronger and quicker than he really was. Would he make me into something more too, because I was also engaged in a noble cause? Or would the protection Ammah enjoyed not extend to me? Because I had not been invited to the war, but I went anyway.

Ammah and the other boys left two days later. Father and Mother and I waved goodbye, standing in the doorway, watching Ammah and our village boys till they disappeared.

I had everything ready to follow, stashed high up in my favorite tree: food, armor, sword, and a set of Ammah’s old clothes. I gave them three days, enough time to get ahead of me, not too much for me to catch up to. Surely one person walking alone would make better time than two thousand, even if they went quickly. One person, even laden as I would be.

I left early in the morning, while the light was still gray. I crept out, not wanting to wake either of my parents. Mother stirred a little, and Father gave a great snore just as I reached the doorway. I laughed, which nearly woke Mother, but she settled down and I snuck outside. I climbed my tree and found my stash. I tossed it down, settled it around myself, and began walking to join Ammah and the rest of Helaman’s army.

They were heading towards Judea, and I followed the path easily. In the early morning the birds twittered and called around me, and the air smelled sweet. It felt very good to be alive, and leaving to join Ammah and the sons of Helaman.

The first day I half expected my father to come running after me, dragging me back home. In my imagination I even thought I heard footsteps behind me. Mother and Father must have believed that I was at Aunt Tia’s. I passed no one, saw nothing but trees and animals and, at night, the stars hanging low. I looked up at them for a long time before I fell asleep. Mother taught that God dwelled in the heavens and watched over us, His children. I prayed that He would look down on me in mercy. Let me show everyone what I can do, I begged God. Let me be an instrument in thy hands like Ammah and all his friends, to help do a great work.

I waited a long time. The silence around me heard my prayer and approved of it, and finally I slept.

In the morning I was creaky and cold, but I began walking anyway. I wondered how long the leather on my sandals would last. Long enough to reach Judea, or see Ammah again, or fight my first battle?

I stopped at a stream to fill my water skin, and knelt down beside a great boulder. Fish darted through the water. I wanted to catch one. I still had plenty of food, but fresh fish was always welcome. I picked out a slow fish, but I did not have long to meditate on catching him, because ahead of me I heard voices. I hid behind the boulder and listened.

“Report for the general on the new reinforcements going to Judea,” one of them said. “Only two thousand, beardless and scrawny. Not worth the bother of returning to report.”

The other one laughed. “We won’t be fighting anytime soon,” he said. “We’ll lose Antiparah if we leave it. Let them have Judea.”

“It’s not for us to make that decision,” the first one said.

They were returning from spying on Helaman and his army. I tried to melt into the ground, so they wouldn’t notice me or look behind the boulder. I reached for my sword, slowly, hoping they would not catch the movement. I should not be scared of Lamanites, I told myself, because if things had gone differently I would be one of them. I could be a Lamanite girl right now, watching my father and brother go off to fight against the Nephites. If Father had not had a change of heart, I could be their younger sister.

Their voices died away and I relaxed. They had left. I stood up from the boulder, still holding the sword, still feeling the rush of fear. Then I heard one call, “Ho, Oreb! My water skin is empty. Wait for me, I’ll catch up with you.”

I ducked down again too late, and he saw me.

“Who are you?” he called, running towards me. “Another beardless Nephite boy. Off to join your friends? Did they leave you behind?”

I held my sword out, ready to fight. “I’m not a boy,” I began, but then realized that it would be better if they thought I was. “I’m not a Nephite, I’m an Ammonite,” I said.

“You mean a traitor,” he answered. “Doesn’t matter anyway. You’ll be coming with us.”

“I’m g-going to join the army,” I said. I stuttered a little. The tip of my sword wavered.

He looked at my drawn sword and laughed at it. “Is that how you want it?” he said. “You really want to fight?”

“I am ready,” I said. And saying made me feel confident, ready, able.

He drew his sword, annoyed, as though he intended to knock mine down and grab me instead. But I blocked him, again and again, as Ammah had done to me. I had him sweating, dancing about me, never able to reach me.

“Boy, you are a much better fighter than I thought,” he said. “But you should know that–“

“Thus we see how the Lord protects those who fight for him!” I interrupted. I almost had him, I could tell. He was getting fatigued. “Thus we see–“ I said-- and then I felt a rock smash into my gut, and the Lamanite spy’s companion appeared.

“I have to rescue you from him, Pekah?” the companion said. “You’re getting old and soft, spying instead of fighting.”

“Shut up and tie him, Oreb,” said Pekah. He panted from the exertion of the fight. “We can’t have another traitor joining Helaman, even a kid like him.”

He held my wrists tightly as he tied them up. I felt stunned. This was how God defended me? Allowing me to get captured by the Lamanites on my second day away from home? Was not my purpose as noble as Ammah’s? Did I not deserve divine help too?

“If you’ll let me on my way,” I said, “I would like to be going now.”

They both laughed. Pekah was bald and paunchy, and much older than the other one called Oreb, He was tall and gangly, with bad teeth. “Too late for that,” Oreb said. “You’re a prisoner, and if you don’t behave we’ll just kill you.”

Pekah pulled me around so I faced him. His bald head still glistened with sweat from our fight. He spat in my face. “You’re the son of a traitor,” he said. “I hate the traitors. Who was your father? Which one was he?”

He pulled back on my wrists. Hard. I refused to speak or say anything. Until he pulled even harder, and then I could stand no more. “Kish,” I said.

He dropped my wrists. “Kish? Your father was Kish?”

I nodded. “Did you know him?” I said.

Pekah seemed uncertain for a moment, but then glared at me. “He was a filthy traitor like the rest of them,” he said. “Now march.”

He led us off the main road, to a narrow winding track. I walked in front of them and listened to Pekah. He spoke loudly, as though he wanted to make sure I heard everything he said.

“Twenty years ago I fought with the traitors. They were leaders, they were strong men, they were fighters. And they left us to join the Nephites.”

Oreb said, “You’ve told me all of this before.”

“Shut up,” Pekah said. “I’m telling you again. I hate the traitors. Because of them we became weak. Because of them thousands of people left. Because they refused to fight I killed fifty of them in one day.” He paused for a minute. “I’ve never killed so many people in one day before,” he said.

He surprised me. I expected him to say it as a boast, but he was not boasting. Wistful, sad, but not proud.

“Didn’t she say her father was Kish?” Oreb said. “The one who swore to drink the blood and eat the hearts of his enemies. And he always did.”

“That’s right,” Pekah said. “He was fierce, strong. When he turned traitor it devastated the army.”

“Drink blood?” I whispered. “Eat hearts?” I had always imagined my father like a Lamanite Captain Moroni. I didn’t know how to let go of that image.

My wrists hurt. My feet stumbled, kicking up dust clouds that blinded me, and made my eyes water. But I could not indulge in tears right now, in spite of aching wrists and awful truths. If I did, these Lamanites might discover who I really was. Not Kish’s son, but his daughter.

“Didn’t Kish take you in after your father died?” Oreb asked Pekah. “I swear you told me that once. That you grew up in the band of Captain Kish?”

“You remember wrong,” Pekah said. “Kish was a traitor. That’s all you need to know.”

They fell silent. We walked. I imagined more footsteps behind me, but there was no one, only me and two Lamanite spies. I began to pray. I have gotten myself in a terrible mess, I told God. No one knows I’m here. No one has any idea the path the Lamanites have taken me. My parents may guess I’m with Helaman and his army, but they will follow the path of the army trail, not this small track for spies. I need a miracle.

But nothing happened. Dusk fell and they loosened my arms enough for me to feed myself. And then, in spite of the pain in my wrists, I fell asleep, exhausted from walking and fighting and being abandoned by God.

In the morning Pekah jerked me awake. “We’re heading for Antiparah,” he said. “They are waiting for my report. Time to get moving.” He let me eat.

Oreb had gone scouting ahead, so it was just me and Pekah. “How is your father?” he asked, almost friendly. “Does he talk about his captain days?”

“He’s quiet,” I said. “He farms the fields and tends the flocks. We have turkeys and sheep.”

“But does he never talk about the people he left behind when he became an Ammonite?”

Father had never said anything to me. “Father only talks to me when he tells me how to fight,” I said. “But he doesn’t use a sword anymore. After the great battle when he killed so many people, he took all his weapons and buried them in the pit with the other ones.”

Pekah sniffed. “He should know better,” he said. “Kish should not have left the Lamanites to become a Nephite. He abandoned us.”

Pekah seemed to care more about my father than he would admit. “Were you and my father friends?” I asked.

“Shut up,” he said, and we finished eating in silence.

Oreb returned. “No one ahead for the next mile,” he said, “and we’ll reach the stream soon.”

So we resumed walking. This time I was almost sure I heard someone behind us. That extra rustling was not my imagination. Perhaps it was an animal?

We stopped for water when we met the stream. Oreb went off to relieve himself. Pekah untied my wrists but fastened my ankles. “You do your business,” he said, “I’m going to rest for a minute.”

He lay down on the bank and closed his eyes. “I’m listening to you,” he said. “Don’t try anything funny.”

I bent to fill my waterskin and felt someone watching me. I turned around and there he was, the source of the footsteps. He stood on the path, five feet away. My father: Lamanite captain, blood-drinker, traitor, swordfighting teacher, firefly gatherer, farmer. And now the one to find me.

“How did you find me?” I said, mouthing out the words so that Pekah wouldn’t stir. “How did you know where to go?”

“I’ve been following you since you left,” he said. “Did you think we hadn’t noticed you were planning to leave? Did you think I would let my only daughter go fight alone?”

I wanted to be angry at him for not trusting me to go by myself, but I was too relieved to be mad. “You let me think I was alone,” I said.

“You wanted to be,” he said. “But you were never alone.” He walked over and loosened my ropes completely, and gathered my bag and sword. Then he glanced at Pekah, and went pale. “Who is that?” he said.

Pekah woke up. He stared for a minute, dazed. “Kish!” he said.

“It’s me, Pekah,” Father said. “How have you been?” He sounded shy and uncertain. My father had always spoken with confidence. I had never heard him like this.

Pekah shrugged. “Spying,” he said. “You taught me well.”

“I have thought of you every single day,” Father said. He reached out his hand to Pekah, to help him up from the ground. “Every day I have wished that I could have gone back to find you.”

Pekah took his hand and stood. He looked small next to Father. “You didn’t mean to leave me?” he said.

“Never,” said Father. “You were like my son. I would never have left you.”

Pekah’s chin began to tremble, but he did not cry.

“On the day we fought the Ammonites I killed one, then two, then five, five people,” Father said to Pekah. “They lay down before my sword, and as I looked at the sixth man, who offered his chest open for striking, I became dizzy and ill. I knew that God did not want me to kill any longer. And when I lay down my sword, I felt peace, a lightness I had never known in all the blood.”

I hadn’t heard Father tell this story before. I only knew bits and pieces, but never the horror of what he had done, or the joy of his conversion.

“I fell down in a faint,” Father said. “The Ammonites carried me off the field as though I were dead. By the time I could go back for you, you and all the others were gone.”

“I killed fifty people that day,” Pekah said. “And with every one, I thought, Kish will be so proud. Kish will be glad to know I have killed the traitors so well. This is what I thought, until someone told me you had joined them.”

“I am sorry,” Father said. “I am so sorry.”

In the stillness they looked at each other and finally embraced. I saw them, and the winding path, and the clear stream, and I felt like this was a good place to be. We were all in the right place.

“So, what happens now, Father?” I asked. “You escort me to Helaman’s army, and then return home?”

“You still want that, after all that has happened?” my father said. “Really?”

“That was your plan,” said Oreb’s voice behind us, “but not anymore.” He stepped out from behind a tree. “This scene has been touching,” he said. “So Pekah, you looked to Kish as a father after all. Doesn’t matter now, though, because we are all going back to Antiparah.”

“Please,” my father said, “she’s a girl, and she needs to come home. Just let us walk away.”

Oreb snorted. “You’re not leaving,” he said. “Pekah, come help me tie them both.”

Pekah shook his head. “I can’t do that, Oreb,” he said.

Oreb grew angry. “I’ll get rid of them, then,” he said. He drew his sword.

Pekah handed his own weapon to Father. “I don’t want to fight anymore,” he said. “I have wanted let go of my sword since the day I killed fifty men, but I was too scared. Too angry at you.”

“I can’t fight either,” Father said. “I am not afraid to die. I had hoped Mariah would live longer, but I cannot fight.” Father refused Pekah’s weapon and stood in front of Oreb, palms open, face bright. “I am ready to die,” he said.

I reached for my sword. “I’m not,” I said. “I don’t want my father to die. I don’t want to die either.”

Oreb laughed. His bad teeth showed. “You are a girl,” he said. “And now that I realize it, you’re not bad-looking. Even if I kill your father, I can surely find some use for you.”

He attacked. This time I felt invincible. I could see where his sword was going seconds before, and block it. When our swords clashed some power beyond my own absorbed the impact. This time, fighting to defend my father, who it seemed like I had just met again, I knew that God was with me to the end.

And soon Oreb’s sword fell to the ground. I would not have killed him if he had not said, “I will take my revenge on you as soon as you walk back down that road. I’ll kill you and your father and Pekah, the new-minted traitor.”

I did not want to do it, but I didn’t want all of us to die either. So I stabbed him, and turned away from the blood that rushed out as he died. And I vomited, and cried.

Father pulled out the sword. It was the first time he had touched a sword in twenty years. He wiped the sword clean. “Is this what you want?” he said. “This is your taste of war. Do you want more?”

I shook my head. Now I knew. Even with God with me, as I knew He had been, it was a terrible thing to kill a man. “Why did you teach me to fight?” I asked. “You made this possible. You knew what it was really like. Why did you train me, your daughter?”

Father dipped a cloth in the stream and wiped blood from Oreb’s chest. “I trained you because I knew I would never be able to defend you myself, and I wanted you to have that strength,” he said. “But only when you needed to. I never wanted you to go looking for it. When I watched you fighting Oreb, it was all I could do to keep still and not jump to your aid.”

“It was the strength of God,” I said. “He protected me too. That’s the only reason we are still alive.”

I bent to help Father clean Oreb’s body. It was still warm, his face relaxed in death, no longer fierce and full of contempt. Pekah and Father and I each found a good sharp digging rock. We dug a grave for Oreb, and set him gently in. Then, looking at Father, Pekah set his own sword upon Oreb’s body.

I made to put mine there as well, but Father held my arm and restrained me. “Do not bury it,” he said. “We may need you to defend us on the way back.”

And so I kept it. We covered the body, and Father blessed the grave. And the three of us walked home, to the land of Jershon, where Mother waited, praying.