It was still pre-dawn. A jungle mist surrounded Amalickiah's camp. Most of the men still slept. Amalickiah and Ammoron sat at a campfire.
"So,"" Ammoron asked his now-royal brother, "when do we hit Zarahemla?"
"We don't," Amalickiah replied, "Not today, anyway."
"We don't?!" Ammoron said with a start, "But, I thought you wanted to take on Moroni? Make him hurt. Drink his blood. That sort of thing."
"Don't mock me brother!" Amalickiah warned.
"I'm not," Ammoron countered, "I'm just confused."
"I want Moroni to believe we're after him first, yes," Amalickiah explained. "But I'm no fool. His best men guard that city. Moroni knows we're near and with his 'walls of terror' as your men so glibly put it, we wouldn't stand a chance. No, we won't be going there today, but soon. Although I'd love to get a peak of the scrambling Moroni's people must be going through now that we've been seen," Amalickiah laughed.
"If not Zarahemla," Ammoron asked, "then where?" He wondered inwardly if he would ever understand his brother's scheming mind.
"We'll hit them first where they least expect it," Amalickiah said, "at the cities along the sea."
"But, they hold no strategic benefit! It would be pointless," Ammoron pointed out.
"Exactly! So, then, which cities do you believe are least guarded and the easiest targets?"
"Yes, but, what's the point?"
"To make him squirm!" Amalickiah retorted sharply, "To catch him off guard. To hurt his little kingdom one step at a time. A man like that feels for and bleeds for every insignificant man in his outfit, including those doomed to wile away their time in pointless little cities watching the surf hit the shore. We'll pick off a few of these cities first, gain a foothold in his lair, and let him see that his muddied walls are no match for our physical might and cunning! He'll learn to quiver at the mere mention of my name and I will not only defeat him, I'll see him squirm under my knife! And, yes, dear brother, I will drink his blood!"
During this tirade, Amalickiah had become wholly impassioned. His fists were clenched. His voice rose. His men stirred from their sleep. He stood by the time he completed his description. Ammoron was staggered by his brother's soul-consuming obsession. He managed only a blundering comment. "My word -"
"Call the men to order!" Amalickiah snapped, "It's time to march!"
Amalickiah turned with a flurry, the tails of his red cloak flew up and outward then swung inward toward him as he stormed off.
~~~ - ~~~
The morning surf lightly, but regularly, pounded the sandy shore. Each wave retreated leaving behind a foamy trace of its brief existence only to be covered by another wave that left its own, temporary mark on the shoreline. It was difficult to say which wave owned the foam. It both lingered and was renewed by the constant succession of waves. At once it was generated by them, but it also owed its existence to no wave in particular. The foam just was. It was temporary, yet permanent. Visible, yet transitory. Constantly waning yet always renewed. It remained a perpetual feature of the pristine shoreline.
The shoreline led to a city wall similar to those Moroni had ordered to be built for all of the Nephite cities, only this one was not quite so high and insurmountable as others were. A singular watch guard kept vigilance at this early morning hour. The sun was only now beginning to bring to light the city that he had guarded throughout the blackness of the night.
The city square was silent. No vendors had yet ventured out to hawk their wares. The shops and homes remained still. It appeared that no one stirred in this sleepy community. All was as it should be. As it always had been. As it seemed it always would be. For one more night, the guard had fulfilled his duty. The city remained safe.
Not far from the city wall, but beyond earshot of the guard, there was a stirring in the forest. The lush jungle foliage continued to within a few yards of the shore, leaving only a very narrow beachfront. Morning mist still rolled off the waves and onto the shore. Less than one hundred yards from the city wall, Amalickiah's army broke forth from the jungle and onto the beach.
They dashed at a wild pace toward the city wall. They bore swords, hatchets, armor, ladders, and crude, little spades for digging footholds in the dirt-covered city wall. They were within 60 yards of their target before the watch guard, who had only momentarily looked out toward the sea, spotted them. In spite of his remote and quiet post, his training did not allow him to be shocked or surprised.
He instinctively and immediately reacted by sounding the alarm. He faced the sleepy city and blew furiously into his horn and continued to do so up until one of Amalickiah's archers struck him through the back of the neck. He slumped forward, still pressing the horn to his dying lips.
The warning was not absolutely in vain, Nephite soldiers emerged from buildings near the city square. Unfortunately, as they prepared to scale the inner wall and reach the catwalk from which their archers intended to defend their city, Amalickiah's men were already halfway up the outside of the wall. They hacked away at the spears that had been secured in the ditches, and dug footholds with their climbing spades. They climbed over each other in waves like ants devouring a leafy tree. One wave stopped to hack away or dig a foothold while others used these footholds to aid their progression.
Amalickiah's first wave of men won the race between competitors who could not yet see each other; as they reached the top of the wall before the Nephites made the catwalk. They quickly drew quivers on the newly awakened soldiers and picked them off as they scurried into battle. Those that did make it to the wall's ladders and ramps were cut down by Amalickiah's soldier's swords. Amalickiah, in his distinctive red cloak, climbed the wall and stood atop the center of the city wall just as the battle was clearly won and his soldiers were rounding up the surviving Nephite soldiers.
Amalickiah stood with arms raised high above his head, his hands clenched the Title of Liberty flag by the fabric. As he tore it in half, his face contorted in a hideously vile shout of triumphal glee at his first and indisputable victory. Below his victorious perch, the once-tranquil city square was now a scene of desolation of bodies and damage that his victory had imposed on the Nephite city.
After completing his gloating, Amalickiah addressed his officers, who stood in the city square, "I want two dozen of our most brutal soldiers to remain behind and take control of this city."
"Remain behind?" the ever-questioning Ammoron asked, "Where are we going?"
"This is just the first of three little parties I've planned," Amalickiah said. "We've got places to go, things to do, and people to conquer. It's time to head inland."
As Amalickiah led his conquering army toward the main gate, he passed by the solider he had left in command. The soldier stood at attention. As Amalickiah passed, he irreverently tossed the torn Title of Liberty at the soldier's feet. He commanded the man, "Burn this!"
Amalickiah and his soldiers left the city and joined his other men who waited outside the city wall and had no need of making the climb. The twenty-four remaining men were spread out with three archers on the city wall, pointing their attention inward at their new captives, and the remaining spread out in the square ushering groups of war prisoners to areas of containment. Amalickiah and his army headed inland following the road between this city and the next, which was about an hour's march.
~~~ - ~~~
It was still early morning, but this city had awoken, and its guards were more alert than at the previous city. There was a bend in the road about a half mile before the city. Amalickiah had halted his men prior to this final bend and ushered them into the jungle. He conferred again with his officers.
"I want five dozen men, to swing wide and approach the city from the far side. They are to stay hidden and silent until they're in position. Then I want them to rush the city with as much noise and speed as possible, leaving the trees in groups of three. I want them staggering their attack so their guards won't know how many are rushing them."
An officer inadvertently vocalized his concern, "They'll be wholly exposed and picked off like monkeys during target practice!"
"They'll be serving their commander!" Amalickiah corrected his officer sternly. His tone quickly mellowed and he added with a sinister lilt, "Besides, I've decided to send you along with them to ensure their safety."
He returned his focus to the other officers. "And they won't be exposed for long." He continued, "This is where our point man earns his keep. Once we hear their shouts, I want that man to keep his eye on the nearest tower guard. Unless I miss my guess, he'll be irresistibly drawn to the clamor. These distant cities are too lonely and boring for him to not want a glimpse of the only action he's bound to see all summer. When he moves over, we move in. And, I want our men to move in silence. I want to scale that wall as noiselessly and quickly as a python going for the kill. By the time they detect us, they'll be at our mercy. Is this clear to everyone?"
Ammoron and the other officers were clearly impressed and nodded approval.
"Then spread the word and be quick about it!" he concluded.
~~~ - ~~~
Five dozen men, in waves of three, charged the city shouting boisterously. The concerned officer was in the center of the first wave. City guards and archers rushed to the wall's top and began raining arrows on their attackers. The officer was the first of Amalickiah's soldiers to drop. New ones continued to pour out of the jungle. Finally, the key tower guard left his post and rushed to witness the excitement.
Amalickiah's point man waved his makeshift flag and Amalickiah's full army quickly and silently rushed the city wall from the far side. Without being under fire from above, it was a small matter for them to push aside the spears and sticks that blocked the way to and inside the ditch that circled the city like a dry moat. The men began to scale the wall with vigor.
As predicted, Amalickiah's forces were near the top before they were noticed by the distracted guard. He was felled quickly by an arrow and tumbled from the wall into the city square. His collapse alerted other soldiers to the invaders' presence. They turned to counter, but were quickly overpowered by the rush of Amalickiah's men who poured over the wall and filled the city square. Victory was without question.
Amalickiah's soldiers opened the main gate. He arrogantly strode through the gate.
"Where's their petty leader?" he demanded.
A soldier rudely whisked the city's judge forward before Amalickiah and forced him to his knees. He pushed his head down.
"I found him cowering in a hall," the soldier mocked.
"So," Amalickiah mused, "you're one of Moroni's little men."
"I serve under Pahoran," the judge corrected, "not Moroni."
"Silence!" Amalickiah demanded, holding back the urge to strike the insolent captive across the face.
The soldier used no such restraint and slapped the judge's head. The judge ducked his head, but the soldier grabbed him by his hair and forced him to look up at Amalickiah. Amalickiah spoke sarcastically and demeaningly.
"Well, my little chief judge," he mocked, "This is your lucky day."
The sarcasm was not lost on the judge, as shown by his expression of detest for Amalickiah and in anticipation of what he was about to propose.
"I can use a man like you," Amalickiah added, "Where are your assistants?"
The judge remained silent.
"Refuse to answer if you will," Amalickiah said, "but bear in mind, I can easily learn where your family is housed. If you'd like to see your wee ones again in this life, I suggest you start being a bit more vocal."
The judge's expression betrayed his mental debate. He finally uttered with shame, "They're in the council room." He bowed his head with a sense of betrayal.
"See, now," Amalickiah taunted, "That wasn't so bad was it? Doesn't it feel good to cooperate?"
~~~ - ~~~
Moments later, Amalickiah addressed his officers in the city square. The judge and his two assistants stood nearby, guarded, with their hands tied. A soldier approached Amalickiah carrying clothes similar to the robes the judicial trio was wearing. He handed the garb to Amalickiah, Ammoron, and a big, burly soldier. Amalickiah addressed his captive judge.
"Well, gentlemen, this is a fine day for you. Not only am I going to spare your lives - for now anyway - but you have the blessed opportunity of accompanying me as we pay a visit to your neighbors."
"We'll never help you!" the judge swore.
"Suit yourself," Amalickiah replied. "You can make this easy on us both, or you can die. It makes no difference to me. I'll still win either way. Only you'll be dead. What good would your bold heroics do for you then beyond earning you a flowery epitaph? 'Here lies so-and-so, he was brave and bold, now he's dead. What a shame.'"
A couple of Amalickiah's men laughed.
Amalickiah stared the judge deep into the eyes. His cold, unblinking gaze seemed to pierce the judge and send a shiver through his spine. Amalickiah added with a factual air that chilled the man, "Besides, we know where you live. We have your wives already in hand, and your children... ."
"What? You don't!"
"Oh? No?" Amalickiah smiled and while keeping his face turned toward the judge, never letting his eyes leave the man's, he reached his arm back and with a flick of his fingers waved two of his soldiers forward from a concealed corner.
The hapless judge nearly fell to the earth when he saw his wife and two, young children dragged forward. They were gagged and bound. The youngest one, a girl of about four years, tripped and fell headlong into a puddle. Her evil escort laughed and roughly pulled her to her feet. It was obvious that all three were terrified. Their eyes were wide, searching, and tear-streaked.
The judge turned to Amalickiah in fury, "If you hurt any of them! -"
Amalickiah cut him off, unintimidated, "The only one who will cause them any hurt, will be you, if you don't cooperate." Then he added, "And these are not the only ones who would be hurt this day because of you. This city holds many wives and children. I have no need for wives and children. They eat provisions meant for warriors. They make noises I have no interest in. In fact, all they're good for is breeding more Nephites to cause me more concern in the future. I have no need for them at all. You would be doing me a great favor to encourage me to rid the city of them."
Amalickiah narrowed his eyes as he made this final point and again sent cold chills through the judge and his men. They had the distinct impression that he was about to kill the city's women and children on the spot.
The trio was less than pleased with their predicament. At this moment, one of Amalickiah's soldiers approached bearing the city's Title of Liberty. He handed it to Amalickiah and reported, "Here's their sacred symbol, sir, just as you requested."
"Thank you," Amalickiah responded. "Burn it!"
The Nephites eyes flared with shock and anger at this, which delighted Amalickiah to no end. He inwardly hoped that at least one of them would try to stop the act. The Nephites used great restraint, recognizing that any attempt on their part would be futile. Within moments, the flag lay burning in a makeshift campfire.
Eyeing their symbol of liberty turning to flames and ashes at the hands of their conquerors one of the judge's assistants asked, "What do you want us to do?" with a bitter, yet concerned edge to his voice.
"Nothing," Amalickiah replied. "Nothing at all. I just want you to accompany me on a walk." His voice changed to include a less-than-patient lilt as he commanded, "Now!"
The three were hefted to their feet and pushed forward. Amalickiah donned the judicial robes and strutted for a moment, turning to admire himself. He pulled the loose hood up over his head and allowed the tails to trail freely behind him. He held his arms outward, letting the oversized sleeves droop downward. Although his face was nearly entirely concealed by the floppy hood, his wicked smile was still clearly discernable.
"My, my!" he said. "Don't I look official now? Just as a king should! Come on!"
Amalickiah motioned to his men; they all headed out following Amalickiah and his new entourage. They again left behind two dozen soldiers to guard the city in a fashion similar to the other conquered city.
©1999, 2003, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
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