Chapter One

Zarahemla 33 BC

 

 

 

The darkness enveloping the land of Zarahemla penetrated more than the sky. A crowd gathered in the city square. Chatter intensified as merchants pressured possible customers and mothers hushed their rambunctious children before the chief judge spoke to the people.       “Serena, why are you here? It’s not wise.” Lehi gently grasped his friend’s arm to briefly get her attention.

      “I know, but I had to see if Aminadab’s name is really listed. Maybe he asked to be forgiven and has somehow been pardoned.” Serena’s search around the city square intensified.

      The tall stone monument carved with laws and decrees blocked those standing in front of it. Serena craned her neck around the stelae monument, teetering on her toes as more people crowded in.

      Lehi tenderly placed his hand on her shoulder. “This will only make it harder.” Serena lowered her heels to the ground and looked him in the eyes as he continued, “I know it hurts to watch someone you know and love choose the wrong path, but Aminadab has chosen his fate. His name is on the scrolls.”

      “Throw them out of the city!” shouted a man in the crowd as Nephi descended the stone steps, his robe flapping in the wind. As the shouts echoed throughout the plaza, Nephi rolled his shoulders back and straightened. Serena bit her lip and twisted her tan tunic. She could see Nephi because of the height of the House of Court steps, but those standing at the bottom blended into a blur.

      The guards next to Nephi waved their javelins in the air and then one blew in a giant conch shell. Serena held her breath at the sound of the horn.

     “The judges have made their decision,” Nephi said, his voice carrying through the stilled crowd.

      Tears blurred Serena’s vision, but she still searched for Aminadab’s walnut-colored hair. Rain trickled down from the sky and she couldn’t help but wonder if the heavens were crying too.

      Nephi raised his hands in the air and shouted, “Let it be known that these six men are banished from Zarahemla.”

      The crowd hollered in triumph.

     Nephi turned his attention to the huddled men near the stone statue. “Enter the land again and you’ll receive the same judgment used in behalf of your murdering friends. Their lives were taken in the name of justice, for we are a people who honor the law. Order and laws must be kept to prevent chaos.” Nephi unrolled the scroll. “Kinnor, son of Kenish; Omeal, son of Omner.”

     Serena quivered at Kinnor’s name. Kinnor changed Aminadab. This is his fault.

     Nephi’s words fizzled in the air until… “Aminadab, son of Aarmen.”

     The moment Serena heard Aminadab’s name she backed away from the others and sat heavily on the hard stones. Holding tightly to her knees, Serena tried to drown out Nephi as he elaborated on the stiff judgement. She rocked back and forth to control the sobs threatening to spill out. Why? How?

     “Serena, I’m sorry.” Lehi bent to comfort her.

     “How could things have changed so drastically? We grew up with him! He played in our homes. He went to church with us. How?” Serena’s tunic absorbed the water drizzling over the stone squares paving the city plaza.

     “Come on, let’s take you home. It’s wet and dreary out here.” Lehi tried to lift Serena into a standing position, but she refused his pull.

      Clinging to her knees, she said, “I’m not going to leave until I talk to Nephi.”

      “But he’s busy.”

      “I have to speak to him.”

      Lehi stood over Serena’s huddled position with a hand on her back while she muttered, “I prayed for him. How can this be? How?”

      Once Nephi descended the court steps, Lehi said, “I’ll be back. Maybe he’ll talk to you briefly, but I can’t promise.”  

      Serena didn’t move until Nephi called out her name. When she saw him, she lunged into his arms and sobbed, “Why didn’t you stop him? Counsel him—make him see his fallen ways. There had to be more that you could’ve done.”

      Nephi wrapped his strong arms around her. “I know it’s hard to watch, but please, you must accept what has happened.”

     Lehi put his hand on his brother’s broad shoulder. Though younger, he was a few inches taller than Nephi, but leaner. “I’ll escort her home.”

      “No, please.” Serena gazed into Nephi’s grey eyes. “Did you see him? I didn’t even see him. How did he look? Was he sorry?”

     Nephi turned to Lehi. “I’ll take her home.” Thunder boomed in the sky so Nephi leaned toward Lehi’s ear. “Inform my men of my whereabouts. I’ll be back shortly.”

     Serena’s feet wouldn’t budge and she shook her head frantically, but Nephi wrapped his arm around her. “Come on. You need to rest. It’s late and the storm is getting worse.”

     “Why did this happen?”

     Nephi shrugged and gently escorted her home.

     “Did you see him?” Serena demanded, this time stopping for the answer.

     “Yes, in the middle of the crowd.”

     “Maybe he––”

      “Serena, he has been banished from the land because his men will not be governed by law or justice. This upsets me as well, but Aminadab has grown angry. He’s lost sight of God and would rather blame Him for his pains.”

      She didn’t want to hear this. Her own shouts rang in her ear, Lost? He can’t be lost.

 

                                                  *     *     *

 

     Aminadab was determined to see Serena one last time. While the guard stood at his front door so Aminadab could grab his belongings, he snuck out the back doorway and sprinted toward Serena’s hut. He crept around the outside of the familiar home. As he neared the back, a loud sound startled him and he leaned against the adobe wall. His heart beat wildly.

      Two turkeys scampered past him. He gave the area a quick scan, his heart slowing.

      Aminadab heard voices, “Be careful, Serena. The storm is getting stronger.”

      This voice made Aminadab cringe. Nephi? What’s he doing with her? He peeked around the hut. The darkness was a relief, but he froze when Serena threw herself into Nephi’s arms.

      Her long wavy hair blew in the wind, covering any sight of her smooth face. The auburn color still shined through the darkened sky. As Aminadab watched her sob, his heart swelled with pain. He closed his eyes and sighed.

      He knew Serena well—too well.

      Nephi has turned her against me for not believing in the tradition of our fathers.        

      Lightning flashed and Aminadab watched Serena jerk at the sudden streak in the sky. Though temporarily blinded, Aminadab never moved back. Nephi rushed Serena into the protection of the hut.

      Aminadab’s childhood flashed through his mind as he stood in the falling rain. He glanced up as if the memories fell from above and then looked back to where Serena last stood.

      Something sparkled. What is that? He squinted, It has to be!

      Aminadab didn’t even pause before he leapt out to grab Serena’s ruby pendant on the ground. It must have caught on Nephi’s brass armband when she looked up at the sky in fear. His fingernails dug into his fist as he clasped the ruby and ran.

      He bumped into a boy shooing a turkey out of his hut. The boy almost toppled over. “Sorry,” Aminadab whispered. The boy stared at him with wide eyes. His unruly brown curls blew in the wind. “Sorry, I mean no harm,” Aminadab said again and then he made his way back to his house before the guard found him missing.

 

 

      Four guards blocked the red-corbeled arch into Zarahemla with their weapons.

      “Took you long enough,” Kinnor said with a scowl, sharpening his high cheekbones.

      “I know, I know,” Aminadab mumbled, keeping his clenched hand out of sight. His sopping brown hair dripped water into his eyes and then pooled into the dimple on his chin.  

      “Let’s go!” Kinnor called to the five men.

      They followed in behind Kinnor and walked north along the worn dirt path outlined with wood.

      Once they walked far enough from Zarahemla, the men bemoaned the execution of their friends earlier in the week. “It was the church members who overreacted, saying we were money changers,” Noah said, then the other men chimed in with their version of the altercation at the synagogue. 

      No one mentioned the many actions they had committed that built up to this anger that was finally displayed. 

     Aminadab had arrived late to the synagogue but had witnessed a church member say this defiling of sacred places must stop. 

     Kinnor belligerently responded to these members when a church member punched him for his disrespect. One of Kinnor’s men was furious and lunged at the man with his knife and killed the man. The other church members present tried to retain him for his crime but some of Kinnor’s men took things into their own hands and a few more died. 

       Frozen in fear, Aminadab ignored the church member who ran away. Kinnor advised his men to collect their belongings and leave so they didn’t have to take any more of this abuse, but by the time they were ready to leave a few of the council men had arrived. 

       Kinnor spoke as if they were only victims, and he used his bloody nose as an example. A witness testified to who actually did the killing, but the council men retained all the men to take before a judge. Within a week, those who were there at synagogue had been banned, even though they hadn't killed anyone.

 

 

      “Helaman judged men unfairly and now his son Nephi is. Church law is not the answer for everything,” Shim said while pushing his hair back from his eyes.

      “That family just wants power,” Jacob said.

      Everyone agreed, except for Aminadab who remained lost in his own thoughts.

     The group continued to berate Helaman and Nephi. Kinnor said, “No wonder the Lamanites despise the Nephite ways. The church shouldn’t meddle in monetary matters.” At the mention of the Lamanites, Aminadab thought he could hear the painful screams of his sister as if they were in the storm still raging overhead.

     His uncle Jerum’s voice came flooding back, “It’s true, Lamanites killed your parents in a surprise attack along with your baby brother.” Shock swallowed his heart as his sister’s hysterical sobs cried out, “Uncle, how could this happen in the middle of the city?”

      Since the age of thirteen, Aminadab feared the Lamanites, and now surprisingly, he found himself headed for the very people who killed his family. 

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