Dawn brought a peaceful view of a lush, green field. Colorful flowers were still wet with thick dew that sparkled with the first rays of the day's sun. The morning chattering of exotic birds was gradually overcome by the rhythmic thumping of hundreds upon hundreds of sandal-clad feet. The first soldier crested a rolling hill that lead to the field. The once-tranquil area was quickly filling with Moroni's advancing army. The soldiers were donned in leather and cloth uniforms. Over their uniforms, they bore heavy armor.
Large, brass breastplates protected their chests and stomachs. Similar plates protected their backs, and were firmly attached to the breastplates by leather ties at the shoulders and along their sides. Loose, metal strips were fastened with rings at the base of the plates, to protect their loins. The metal strips separated momentarily as bulging thighs pushed through them then retracted with each step. Lashed to their sandals, protecting their shins, were brass shin-plates.
The soldiers' arms were bare, except where a portion of the sheepskin covered their shoulders and upper arms. Each man wielded a long, unsheathed sword in one hand, and a shield in the other. Their daggers remained at the ready, tied firmly to their sides and resting on their hips.
Protecting their heads, each man had donned a distinctive helmet of brass, which covered their general-issue leather helmets. Those helmets had been fashioned with ornate designs. Some had horns, others feathers, still others bore intricate carvings. Each design represented the symbol of the individual soldiers' family lines.
The march continued forward in wordless, steady earnestness. Each man had cultivated a look of determination in his eye, but not hatred.
The soldiers continued their quick pace. Row after row of them made their way down the tree-lined hillside, with Moroni at their head. The hillside leveled out and the trees gave way to reveal an open field in front of them, bordered by dense, jungle trees and vines. The playful monkeys stopped their games for a moment to turn and see who had entered their field.
Moroni continued to lead his men toward the river, which still lay some two hundred yards ahead, across the field. Moroni's gaze strained forward across the river and into the trees where he had seen the campfire smoke the night before.
Suddenly, a horde of angry men dashed from the trees on either side of the field. They were wild looking and nearly bare all over, revealing the dark redness of their skin, which was a stark contrast to that of the Nephite soldiers. They screamed blood-curdling war cries as they ran forward without any signs of order, waving clubs and swords above their heads. Their faces were painted with wicked designs intended to induce fear and intimidation in their warrior enemies.
Here and there the renegade Nephites could be seen charging side by side with the nearly bare Lamanites. Their lighter skin made them easy to spot, and their fierce expressions made it clear that they were wholly dedicated to this attack. Sweat steamed down their painted faces as their mouths stretched open in shrill cries of pure hatred. Their swords and clubs were raised high over their heads as they charged men whom one would think ought to have been treated as their brothers.
As the two, opposing armies met in a frenzied battle, one of Moroni's soldiers shouted, "For freedom!" and raised his sword high above his head as he energetically charged his foe.
The scene quickly became one of massive, hand-to-hand fighting. Moroni's men were duly protected because of their clothing and shields, but the opposition boasted powerful and determined men. Nephite swords quickly bloodied their bare skin, but Lamanite clubs and swords, swung by powerful arms filled with intense hatred and anger, managed to find their marks in some of the vulnerable areas. Moroni's men remained undeterred and slowly pushed their enemy back across the meadow and toward the river.
One of the Lamanites — a tall, intimidating warrior — looked around and noted the loss of ground. At this moment, three of his men were simultaneously dropped by swords within a few yards of where he stood, as if in testimony that this battle could not be won by shear determination alone. Their bare skin could be no match for the armor with which Moroni had fortified his men. The Lamanite leader's gaze remained toward the river as he motioned with his sword for his men to work their way toward it for crossing and safety.
His men obeyed without question and soon the river was filled with fleeing Lamanites. As escape seemed evident, Captain Lehi and his men emerged from the south, on the far side of the river, cutting off all hope of deliverance. Lehi's men joined the battle fresh and vigorous. The Lamanite enemy was then wholly surrounded, outnumbered and caught literally midstream. Their men panicked and lost all sense of unified attack.
Splashing water obscured much of the view of this routed army as men ran in all directions, not knowing which side of the river provided the most likely means of escape. War cries turned to shouts of frustration and pure anger mingled with fear. In the melee, some of the fleeing soldiers lost their swords or clubs as they fell or tripped over their comrades in the river or by its muddied banks.
The frenzied Lamanites were now in a panic, trampling over each other as they sought in vain for some form of sanctuary. Moroni saw that his enemy had lost all hope of unity. They were now at his mercy to slaughter or spare. As he noted this, he stopped and raised his sword straight and high over his head. All fighting ceased.
"Zerahemnah, come forward!"" he shouted with a clear, commanding voice.
Zerahemnah, a Nephite by birth, but a Lamanite by choice, was the man who had signaled the retreat to the river. He now pushed his way toward Moroni. All eyes were upon him as Nephites and Lamanites alike stepped aside to allow him to pass. Zerahemnah's tall, muscular body was sweaty and his lungs still heaved in and out searching for air, though his expression bore not the least hint of fatigue.
Sweat and water had combined to work away at his red war paint, revealing the true color of his skin and making it clear that this man was not a true Lamanite, but a renegade Nephite who had chosen to bitterly oppose the nation of his birth. His chest and upper arms were covered with battle scars and fresh, minor wounds. He tromped forward, scowling indignantly and with the annoyed expression of a warrior unaccustomed to defeat and unwilling to accept it.
"I'm here, Moroni," he announced and stopped about fifteen feet from Moroni.
"Zerahemnah, you can see that you're defeated. You should also see that God himself has blessed us to prevail. You should now realize that you can't beat us. With this, you should also know that we will crush you into the ground, lest you give up this battle!" Moroni spoke loudly so that as many people as possible could hear him and gain a distinct understanding of the terms of surrender.
Zerahemnah maintained his indignant and defiant attitude. He straightened and retorted with equal volume, "I see no such thing! I don't believe that God is on your side. What I believe is that it's your shields and your armor that lets you prevail!"
Some of the Lamanites nodded in agreement and jeered at their opponents. The Nephites held their ground and returned glaring looks of warning as they poised their swords ready to return to battle.
"Zerahemnah, we don't desire to be men of blood. You know that you're in our hands, yet we don't want to slay you. But, unless you heed my words, I'll loose my men on you and wipe you off the face of this earth!" Moroni warned his nemesis.
Moroni's men leaned forward, swords at the ready, as a show of strength.
"Zerahemnah, I'll let you live only if you and your men lay down your swords and swear an oath that you will never come back to attack my people. If you'll swear that you'll let us live in peace, we will let you live. If you do not swear this, we will destroy you, NOW!" With each word, Moroni's voice grew increasingly threatening and loud.
Zerahemnah looked Moroni in the eye. "I give you my sword, but I'll not swear an oath that I know that I'll break," he declared and threw his sword at Moroni's feet in disgust. "I'll not have my men swear an oath that I know that they'll break. But, take our weapons of war, and let us leave into the wilderness. Otherwise, we'll retain our swords, and we'll either perish or conquer. We're not of your faith. We don't believe that it's God that has delivered us into your hands, but your cunning that has preserved you from our swords."
Zerahemnah stood unflinchingly and defiantly eyeing Moroni. The wind blew his sweaty, dark hair. Two armies now awaited Moroni's reaction. For a moment in time, no one on the battlefield moved. Even the monkeys held their peace. Moroni stared into Zerahemnah's eyes. He saw their firm, unmoving, arrogant hatred and recognized that he was not getting through to his foe.
Seeing no alternative, Moroni dipped his sword and with its tip he flicked Zerahemnah's sword back to its owner. The sword flopped at Zerahemnah's feet with a dull thump. Moroni added with even more firmness, lest anyone that heard him would think that Zerahemnah had gained an edge in the war of words and attitudes, "I can't retract the words which I've spoken. As the Lord lives, you will not leave this field except you swear an oath that you'll not return again against us to war. You will swear this oath, or I'll lead my men to your death...."
Moroni was interrupted as Zerahemnah grabbed his sword, and rushed toward him with his weapon drawn, rage in his eyes and murder in his heart. One of Moroni's men, a young soldier named Teancum, quickly stepped forward to intercept the challenge. He swiftly drew his own sword and swung it before the advancing foe. Teancum struck Zerahemnah's sword so hard it broke at the hilt. As Zerahemnah continued his approach, Teancum then struck at him directly. Zerahemnah instinctively attempted to dodge the blow.
Teancum's sword nearly missed its mark entirely, but managed to slice across the top of Zerahemnah's head. Enraged and in pain, Zerahemnah screamed and collapsed to his knees. His hands sprang toward his head, but he managed to restrain them, fearing to touch his open wound. His severed scalp lay on the ground before him. Teancum picked it up with the tip of his sword and used his sword to hold it high above the armies' heads, so that all could see the grisly object.
"Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth, which is the scalp of your leader, so will you all fall to the earth except you deliver up your weapons of war and leave with an oath of peace!" Teancum loudly proclaimed. "Any of you men who lay down your swords and swear an oath of peace, will be able to leave this field alive. Those of you who don't, won't live to see the sun set!"
Again, there was silence for a moment. A bird rustled, cawed, and flew overhead. One by one, a few dozen Lamanite men pushed their way to Moroni's presence. They were careful to avoid eye contact with Zerahemnah who busied himself attempting to put a makeshift bandage on his head with the aid of two of his soldiers.
The first Lamanite soldier to reach Moroni looked him in the eye and announced without shame, "I am Jeshua. We swear that as the Lord lives and as we live, we will no longer raise the sword against your men. We give you our weapons as proof."
Jeshua tossed his sword at Moroni's feet. The other Lamanites, who had followed him forward, did the same. They stood awaiting Moroni's words — weaponless, vulnerable and at their enemy's utter disposal. Their lives hung by the thread of Moroni's honor.
Moroni faced these former foes and replied, "Jeshua, you have chosen well. We accept your oath." Moroni turned to one of his own men, "Korimur, lead these men through to safe passage."
Korimur stepped forward and led the men away from the scene of battle, through Moroni's army, and toward the rainforest. As they left, Moroni again addressed Zerahemnah's men, "You men see that these brave and wise men have been fairly dealt with. We don't seek your lives. We only seek peace. If you'll swear to let us and our people live in peace, we will let you live. If you do not," he carefully added with an intense sense of warning, "We will not spare you."
Zerahemnah was still in the act of having his head crudely bandaged. But, when he looked up and saw more of his men swearing the oath and leaving, he became further enraged. Pushing away his soldier, disallowing him to complete tying off the bandage, Zerahemnah rose to his feet. Another Lamanite soldier protested and Zerahemnah glared at him with fire in his eyes. The Lamanite backed off. Zerahemnah pushed forward and grabbed a sword from one of his officers.
"Men! We are not dogs that Moroni can beat into submission! We are warriors who have chosen a warrior's path! Forward!"
His shout to his men was intended to incite them to anger. With this, he pointed his sword directly at Moroni. Zerahemnah knew his men well. His remaining men filled the air with the blood curdling screams of frenzied warriors launching a doomed assault. Their response brought a wicked grin to his blood-streaked face.
Moroni could not help shaking his head in disbelief at their stubbornness. He was not caught off guard, however. Even before Zerahemnah was able to make eye contact with him, he had his sword at the ready. He motioned for his men to resist their attack and defend themselves.
Jeshua and his companions were still within earshot of the battlefield. As the muffled sounds of battle edged their way through the jungle growth and surrounded their ears, they stopped. Some of these men tightened, tensely aware of the actions the sounds conveyed. Jeshua was the first to turn and speak to them all.
"Men, this is no longer our battle; no longer our concern. If Zerahemnah is intent on continuing the conflict, he'll have to do it without us."
"But, they're our comrades!" came a concerned reply.
Others nodded agreement, doubting the honor of their retreat.
"We have given our word. We cannot go back or we will deny our souls. You know this to be true," Jeshua stated with forceful conviction.
"Yes, we know. But, that doesn't make it any easier," one of the oath-makers added.
"Jeshua's right. Let's keep going before we do something foolish," another warned.
The repentant warriors bowed their heads. Their heads were not bowed in shame, but pity for their angry brethren. One Lamanite reached up and patted Jeshua on the shoulder in a show of support. The two turned and continued deeper into the forest. The others followed as the group continued wending its way from the field of battle to their homes.
Back among the fury, Moroni's men's shields and armor again offered strong protection. Zerahemnah's men pummeled Moroni's soldiers, but few strokes from the Lamanites' swords or clubs struck the Nephite soldiers' flesh. Those blows were either absorbed by sturdy, gleaming shields, or skillfully parried by swiftly moving swords. To the contrary, Zerahemnah's bare men were quickly wounded and many fell dead.
Those who were first to fall were those wielding clubs. As the threatening but awkward weapons were swung, they were easily deflected and with a small twist of the arm, the Nephite sword could be shifted from a parry to a blow. The Lamanites fell not just one by one, but several at a time across the battlefield, just as Teancum had predicted.
Zerahemnah himself struggled to hold his ground. He could not help but note his own failure to prevail. Now and again, he managed to glance across the field and saw the dead and dying men he led. At times it was necessary to step over dead or wounded Lamanite soldiers as he advanced and retreated during his very mobile hand-to-hand combat. It was not long before he was forced, bitterly, to recognize that the war he waged was a hopeless loss.
Begrudgingly, but desperately, Zerahemnah shouted to Moroni, "Moroni, we will swear! Spare us and we will swear the oath!"
Moroni and Lehi's eyes met from across the battlefield. Lehi nodded approvingly. Moroni again raised his sword straight in the air. His trumpeter sounded the signal. The din of battle slowly faded to a rolling, dying echo across the field. As silence again reigned, Moroni stood on a large rock, so that all could see him.
"Zerahemnah, by all that is holy, if you do not swear this time, you will not live another moment!"
He spoke loudly and forcibly, so that no one could misunderstand him.
All eyes shifted to Zerahemnah. The proud leader ceremoniously lowered his sword. He turned it and held it with its point to the ground. He stood straight with his bandaged head high as he mustered his pride and walked with determination, toward Moroni. When he was within two paces, he quickly kneeled on one knee. He held up his sword horizontally with both hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade. He offered it to Moroni.
Without any tinge of shame or indignity in his voice, he declared, "Captain Moroni, I offer you my sword as a token of my oath that I, my men, and our children will never again come against your people to battle. As the Lord lives and as I live, this I swear. And this my people swear."
The Lamanite people were bold, brash, and fierce, but strictly honored their oaths. Their leader's oath transcended all animosity and anger. To not heed that oath would have been to deny the essence of their society. Zerahemnah knew this. He held off giving the oath until the last possible moment, because he knew too well that the words were more than mere sounds to be uttered. He and his people considered it to be an utterance from their very souls, tying their souls to absolute adherence to the words. Once spoken, they could not be retracted, ignored, or abandoned lest they abandon their very souls.
All across the field, Zerahemnah's men turned ceremoniously solemn. Each one instinctively and immediately obeyed their leader's word of honor and kneeled. Each offered his weapon to whichever of Moroni's men was nearest. These Lamanite and Nephite men, who moments earlier were striking death blows on each other, were now binding themselves together by virtue of the oath which Zerahemnah and his men now swore.
The Lamanite warriors paired up with Moroni's and marched to where Moroni stood. Moroni's officers had also migrated to his vicinity. Each of Moroni's men held a sword or club from Zerahemnah's men. One by one, the Lamanites kneeled with one hand on the weapon held by Moroni's man, in token of their accepting and swearing the oath. With each oath, the men cast their weapons into the pile by Moroni.
The pile of abandoned tools of death grew while Moroni and his officers nodded and allowed each former owner to leave the field of war alive. Neither Moroni nor any of his officers bore the least concern of these former enemies who left the field, unguarded and unescorted. They knew that there could be no more hostilities with these particular men.
As the Lamanites, left one by one, the field revealed the scars of war. In addition to the impressively large pile of weapons at Moroni's feet, other weapons were scattered across the field. They could be seen strewn about like straw from a strong wind. They lay from the top of the hillside down beyond the river Sidon. Their bloodstained blades represented only a fraction of the horrors this field now bore.
Lying near, on, or in some cases, still clasping their weapons, were the bodies of soldiers who would never return from battle this day. Some lay face down in the river. Several of the river-bound bodies had snagged on underwater brush, forming a grisly, human dam. The mighty waters of the river Sidon flowed around them, temporarily widening the river's banks.
Even victories held their bitter tasks. Moroni ordered his men to clear the river. Four large soldiers removed their breastplates and tops. They waded into the stream and tugged at limp limbs. With a mighty pull, one soldier succeeded. He fell backward into the water. The body he freed could no longer hold back the force of the river's water. It rolled forward on a wave bearing with it other bodies that were now loosened by its flow.
The nameless corpses surged quickly down the river several hundred yards until they reached the brim of a towering waterfall. Here they plummeted downward into the mist and foam to be washed out to where the nearby sea waited to receive them into their watery grave.
Moroni would have preferred giving each fallen man a decent, honorable burial. But, he also recognized the efficient mercy the swift river offered. There would be no dishonor in a burial at sea, and his men would not have to linger on the death of their comrades and unrepentant enemies any longer than necessary.
Moroni ordered that the dead be taken from the field of battle and placed into the river to allow nature to finish their task. The sun was setting as Moroni and his men returned to their tents and began to pack for their long march home.
~~~ - ~~~
Days later, Moroni led his men on the final leg of their march home. The ever-ascending path did not slow the feet of his men. They climbed with the eagerness of husbands and fathers returning safely to their loved ones. Finally, the mighty city of Zarahemla stood before them. Its tall wall offered but one gate, wide enough for a large wagon to easily pass through it.
A tower watchman spied Moroni even as his men saw this first tangible sign of home. The men resisted the urge to race to the city. They continued with order and dignity. Each warrior knew that among the quickly-increasing number of little eyes that peered eagerly over the city wall, might be those of his own son. They wanted their sons to see how a true soldier marched, before they returned to their farms and shops.
The city gate opened without Moroni calling out. They marched forward until all the men were safely within the walls. The gate was then closed. Moroni stood in the center of the city square, triumphant. Wives and children rushed from their homes and observation posts to embrace their returning husbands and fathers. Some families were saddened, however, to learn that their husbands and fathers would never be returning.
Moroni's eyes were fixed on the city's central building. The building was tall, large, and shaped like a pyramid, but with a flat top. Its four terraced sides slanted upward and inward forming the pyramid shape. Steep stairs were cut into its face, dissecting the building from its base to its flattened top.
The top bore a single room known as the tower room. Its roof was one, solid piece of stone carved to arch at the top and its four corners rested on firm, thick pillars that rose from the four corners of the pyramid's top. The curved, stone roof was hollowed out in such a way as to become an amphitheater of sorts. A man could stand high up in the tower, yet his voice could be heard with clarity over an impressive distance. This was used on special occasions for making grand pronouncements. It also served as the city's main watchtower.
The central building contained a series of rooms and corridors. Adjacent buildings were made of large, flat stones hewn in such a way that they had been laid together like massive bricks. The largest had a wooden roof, which slanted to one side. From this building Alma, the elderly spiritual leader of the society emerged. He stepped out and paused.
For a moment, his and Moroni's eyes met. Even from a distance, the two were able to communicate Moroni's victory and Alma's satisfaction at their safe return. Alma walked forward and officially met Moroni and his men in the city square.
"Alma, we have secured peace with the Lamanites. Zerahemnah and his men have sworn the oath of peace!" Moroni spoke loudly to allow the people to hear, in addition to his spiritual leader.
"We must give thanks to God for preserving our freedom!" Alma said as he beamed approval and properly directed the thoughts of the city.
Alma kneeled. Moroni and the crowd followed suit. They bowed their heads for a moment of silence. Alma then rose and motioned for the crowd to do the same. He turned to Moroni and summarized with simplicity, "Well done."
"Thank you, sir. Now I can return to my family and my farm. I've spent far too long away from them," Moroni replied.
"I agree. Go and take care of them. They deserve your attention, and your love," Alma bade him well.
©1999, 2003, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
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