I had a couple of readers mention that I'd promised to post ALL of Chapter Two of Tennis Shoes Book 12: Drums of Desolation. Then I realized I'd never posted all of Chapter ONE! I'll post Chapter Two in a couple days. For now here is all of Chapter One, along with a reminder and encouragement for fans to pre-order directly from me a copy of Drums (as it has come to be called) as a book ($17.95) or audio ($39.95) by calling, 801 870 2070. If, for some bizarre reason, I don't answer, send a text to this number (voicemail is not set up) and I will call you back at my earliest convenience. Stuff will be mailed in October. You may also pre-order an autographed copy of the Book or Audio CD through Amazon.
Ordering directly from me helps my family. So for those who call me personally to order Tennis Shoes 12 book or CDs until the end of August, I'll provide one free item:
--Passage to Zarahemla Book (2003 Edition) ($14.95 value)
--Escape from Zarahemla Book ($16.95 value)
--Passage to Zarahemla DVD ($15.95 value)
--Pre-Order customers may also get the Audio CD of Escape from Zarahemla for an additional $10.00. ($27.95 value). Free items will be charged an additional $3.00 for shipping.
Perhaps I should also mention that readers can currently order my other book release of the summer, Extraordinary Comfort. This book is $14.95 and tells the true account of a mother who visited heaven during a coma and met her stillborn son and stillborn grandson. Cool story! For more details, go here.
Here's Drums of Desolation, Chapter One. It should be in its typeset form, so if you see errors, let me know.
“Watch for snakes,” said Hamira, the youngest daughter of Akish the sorcerer, and great-granddaughter of Omer, king of the Jaredites. “They like to slip inside these caves during the heat of the day.”
I barely remember this statement. Mostly I remember the enticing tone of her voice. There was a flirtatious quality to it. That might not make sense considering the nature of the statement. But it was true.
I'm ready to admit one idea . . . men are indeed the weaker species. As a matter of fact, when under the spell of a female, we are little more than blithering hand puppets.
She led the way into the shadowy cavern entrance beside the river. The floor of the outer corridor had numerous broken stones that slipped and crunched beneath our feet. The torchlight revealed a wall and ceiling with multicolored layers of jagged stone that had dark striations of minerals.
It looked like a squared-off board game of checkers or mahjong, perhaps shattered after being dropped.
Hamira led me to the base of the wall, which curled inward. She pulled away a few stones and other debris to reveal a nook where she’d hidden everything we needed. Most of her camouflage had been torn down previously so she could recover the clay vials of dye and other tools that she’d used to carve and paint her mural above the cavern’s entrance—a message that she’d intended for King Omer’s eyes alone. Her message, she told me, would confirm that we had passed by, warn him of potential
enemies, and offer further instructions. After handing me her torch, she shimmied through the small opening and then beckoned for me to hand the torch back. I hesitated.
She snapped her fingers. “Come on! Give me your torch and follow.”
I shook myself. My thoughts were blurred. Not only was I still shuddering from the disturbing message that the sword of Akish had just whispered in my brain—a warning about Hamira’s safety—but I was also distracted by . . . well . . . by Hamira herself. If I wasn’t gawking at her, I was deliberately not gawking at her, which only made me hyperfocused on her every movement in a different way. I watched her squeeze into the hole. I watched her turn around to face me. I locked onto her chocolate brown
eyes in the torchlight. Not just her eyes. Her lips.
This wasn’t normal behavior for me. It was dangerous. Dangerous! I was a Nephite Captain. I commanded ten thousand men. Yet all of my five senses were wrapped up in Hamira. After returning the torch and handing her mine, I crawled after her into the chamber. As I came to my
feet, I noted a selection of waterproof jars, some upright, some laid flat.
My attention was then riveted back on Hamira.
Not moments ago, just outside the cavern entrance, this hypnotically beautiful girl—the daughter of two of the most despicable people I’d ever met—and I had shared a kiss. A deep kiss. A kiss that had lasted . . . a minute? Who knows? Maybe it was only a quarter that long. But for me
it was forever.
Why am I talking about this? It’s embarrassing. I was off my game. My military senses, my instincts for self-preservation carefully honed for several uninterrupted years were on the fritz. Unsteady. Undependable. Because of a kiss? A single kiss? What kind of a man was I? What kind of
Well, admittedly, I was a warrior who’d never been kissed. But if I’d revealed that fact to any of my comrades in the Fox Division, I’d have faced such stinging ridicule that my prestige and repute would’ve suffered irreparably. Certainly there were some of my officers and orderlies who’d
noticed that I did not participate in bawdy jokes or spend leisure time with those women who always seemed to attach themselves to the back of a division’s column like flies to a carcass—women that no man would take home to anyone’s mother. If any warrior had ever broached the subject or snickered behind my back or questioned my manhood, I’d have quickly turned the subject against him, reminding him that if a soldier couldn’t maintain his focus as a warrior, he didn’t deserve to call himself a warrior.
I’d even told the leader of my Jaguar Knights, Kigron, that a woman—any woman—could muddle a battle commander’s strategies. I directed him to keep such females out of my sight.
Some, like Nompak, my Snake Seeker—who served as my bodyguard/anti-witchcraft advisor—once told my officers that I had the “mantle of Mormon.” He believed that I practiced the same morality as our illustrious commander when he took over the Nephite forces at the tender
age of fifteen. Since Mormon’s prowess as a young military genius was legendary, not a single soul after that questioned my conduct or scoffed at my behavior. Most would have defended my celibacy, threatening with death any woman who approached my tent to offer “favors” from a fellow commander or baggage merchant. They believed with unwavering superstition that my refusal to fraternize with the “honey women” (as they were called) would preserve in me a supernatural ability to win battles.
Not all of it was exaggerated. I really did believe that a woman could distract a commander. Still, the truth was I was more terrified of women than I was of the most battle-hardened Lightning Warrior. I mentioned something before about my mother’s voice haunting my thoughts and how I’d have regretted to my innermost soul any action that betrayed this voice—this face—in my conscience. In reality, I had no idea how to even behave around females.
Let me say that differently. I could talk to girls just fine, especially when I sensed that they might be an adversary. What I found a complete mystery was how to behave around a girl that I liked. That is to say, a girl I liked and who, potentially, liked me back. “Potentially” is the key word here, because after our kiss, Hamira adopted the insufferable attitude that the gesture had meant practically nothing. It hadn’t changed our relationship in the least.
As we crouched inside the space where all the sacred records of the Jaredites had been hidden for the last several years, she began a lecture about the chamber’s contents as if I were a stranger.
“Many of the records in these jars,” she began, “are very old and fragile. They are the records of the first fathers of the earth—Adam, Noah, Shem, and others who lived on the far shores of the Great Waters, before the arrival of Jared and his family. Some scrolls have been copied by scribes, but others
were destroyed by Akish and other wicked men. We don’t know for certain if certain records exist outside of this room. These jars contain the writings of Jared, Jared’s brother, and many of the first kings of my people. You and I can’t carry them all. King Omer’s company will have to carry most of them.
We need to be selective and . . . Joshua, are you listening to me?”
Admittedly, I was watching her lips. “Yes,” I mumbled. “We need to be selective.”
She frowned. “I need you to understand my mission, Joshua. This quest was given to me by my great-grandfather, King Omer.”
“I’m not the first, am I?” I asked.
“The first what?”
“You’re very good at it. I can’t be the very first man you’ve ever kissed.
How many came before me?”
She cracked a vague smile, but also with a hint of irritation. “The way I kissed you? None.”
“Then how many . . . in general.”
She raised her chin stiffly. “I don’t think about such things in general ways. If it makes you feel better, no one you’ve met. And no one twice on the same day.”
I scrunched my forehead, confused. “Twice? We haven’t kissed twice.”
Her smile was both seductive and mischievous. I realized almost too late that she was leaning toward me again, her eyes closed to slits, lips puckered. Finally, I got it.
This time I relished the kiss—every particle. The impact. The moisture. The taste. Every sensation. Her hand cupped itself around the back of my head and moved down the back of my neck. Her other arm sort of pressed against my shoulder, as if drawing me into an embrace. It wasn’t quite
possible to hug while she held a torch. The ceiling was low. The flames licked the overhead stone. I smelled the vague scent of singed hair. My own hair!
I yelped—still kissing—and it made a sound deep in her lungs. I broke off the kiss and swatted at the hair over my left ear, where her torch’s flames had fanned out on the ceiling, scorching an unknown number of strands.
She laughed hysterically. “I’m so sorry! I forgot about the low ceiling. Are you all right?”
“Fine,” I replied, embarrassed that the mood was shattered so completely. “I didn’t need those hairs anyway. I was thinking of shaving myself bald.”
She laughed again. I laughed too. She ran her fingers through my scalp where there seemed to be little damage. Curled, crispy wisps fluttered away. The smell of singed hair lingered. Hamira smiled warmly. I realized I was grinning like a toddler after his first taste of chocolate. I was aware of my breathing. I was aware of her breathing. Then insecure thoughts entered my mind.
Like a typical small-minded male, I began a new barrage of stupid questions. “How many that I’ve never met? How many men have you kissed on one day and then on some other day?”
Her smile didn’t completely run away. Thus far my prying hadn’t really offended her. She turned her attention back to the clay jars and said coolly, “Well, now, let me think. It’s difficult to count. There are so many.”
I suddenly recalled one of her former statements. “Didn’t you say a few minutes ago that you’d never had a man in ‘any way’?”
“True,” she said, the smile less perceptible. “Do you consider a kiss to be one of the ways that a woman can have a man?”
“Yes,” I said. “I specifically asked if you’d ever been kissed. You shook your head. You even looked a little sickened by the idea.”
She pinched her eyes shut and appeared befuddled. “You were firing multiple questions at once. I was responding to your question as to whether I’d ever fallen in love.”
“So it wasn’t quite the truth?”
At last, her gleaming smile was gone. “Joshua, son of Plimpton—”
“Son of Garth,” I corrected.
She was perceptibly peeved. “Son of Garth. I’ve never lied to you. Perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted anything. My mother tried to vigilantly teach her daughters that a woman should never tell a man the truth. Or atleast never the whole truth.”
“Asherah is a lying traitor,” I said.
She stiffened. After all, I was speaking of her mother. Still, Asherah was a villain. A sorceress. She’d have slit her own mother’s throat without a second thought just to get ahead. For all I knew, she had slit her mother’s throat. She’d been part of the plot to murder her father. What was the extent of Asherah’s crimes? I wasn’t backing down. If Hamira held any opinion of her mother—or father—that wasn’t completely forthcoming and honest, this conversation hardly seemed worth continuing.
Hamira said, “I know my mother is a lying traitor. That’s why I’ve rejected virtually every word of her advice. But maybe if I’d uttered a tiny lie about who I have and haven’t kissed, you wouldn’t be wearing such a brutish scowl on your face.”
I softened my expression. “I apologize. I’m just . . . not used to this.”
I shifted uncomfortably. “Caring about someone. I mean . . . in that way.”
“In a way where you . . . really care about them!” Boy, my advice to Kigron about women was dead on. They could turn a commander’s brain into mush.
Hamira said demurely, “I care about you too.”
It didn’t help. I felt as though my tactical prowess had been compromised. I couldn’t possibly make the sharpest decisions in this state of mind. It wasn’t just Hamira. It was the sword of Akish on my back. The “voice” would surely take advantage of this weakness at its first opportunity. How could I fight it? What did I have left?
I quickly glanced at the pointers. They directed my eyes toward the wall behind Hamira. There was no tunnel there. It wasn’t pointing out a way for us to travel. It indicated something else.
Hamira leaned closer to the wall with its Scrabble board of broken, multicolored rocks. She gripped a rectangular-shaped chunk and started to pull. The stone moved. It filled the cavern with a scraping echo as she hoisted it free. The stone’s height and width were about a foot and a half, but its thickness was only a few inches. As Hamira set the stone on the ground, a hidden niche was revealed. Who’d have guessed it? The “door” had been shaped with such precision that it made a perfect camouflage.
The stone had likely been part of the original wall, removed and broken at the back so that a cavity was created behind it.
Inside the space was a shiny, bronze-colored bag of material that I couldn’t identify. Silk? I wondered. Or just fine-twined cotton. She hefted the bag and held it forward. She carefully, reverently pulled away the flap to reveal its contents. I gawked in puzzlement. They were gold plates. At first I thought they were the very plates stolen from me by Akish atop Cumorah, but as Hamira revealed a little more and held the record closer, it was plain to see that they were not Mormon’s plates. The manuscript was thinner. Not as many leaves. And its weight appeared considerably less.
“This,” Hamira began, “is the most sacred record of my people. As my great-grandfather told you before, no one has ever read it. It’s a history of the world from its very inception—from the creation of mankind until the very end of times, when the heavens and the earth shall melt in a fervent heat and be rolled up as a scroll. It’s the book of Mahonri Moriancumr.”
Impressive description. Her speech almost seemed out of character. I’d pegged Hamira as a rebellious teenager, too “cool” to follow the religion of her youth. Perhaps not so different from the way I’d felt a while ago.
“You memorized those words?” I asked.
She screwed up her face, self-conscious. “It’s not a precise quote. And one doesn’t so easily forget the repetitions of youth.”
I remained astonished how closely these plates resembled Mormon’s record. The golden sheaves were made from a similar—if not identical—alloy. Maybe this was the model and blueprint that Mormon had used to create his own record. Why not? It was my understanding that Mahonri Moriancumr’s book would be around for many centuries before any Nephite got his hands on it. Since Mormon had intended his abridgement to survive a similar amount of time, it seemed practical that he would replicate the brother of Jared’s technique.
There was a thin, golden “sheet” encasing the top that hid the actual engravings, much like a seal, I supposed, that would protect the record centuries later, after it was translated into Nephite characters and comprised two-thirds of Mormon’s plates. Images from Raiders of the Lost Ark flashed in my head. I highly doubted if this movie’s climax was based on any kind of doctrine, but I couldn’t help but imagine that anybody who removed that golden top layer to see the engravings would experience the same fate
as the evil Nazis who’d peeked inside the Ark of the Covenant. Their faces would melt away, revealing white skulls. Afterwards, every part of them would disintegrate and blow away as dust. Hollywood, I scoffed. But the image was unforgettable and intimidating.
I rechecked the Liahona. The spindles still pointed at the brother of Jared’s book. Hamira refolded the shiny material over the plates and handed it to me. I took it, still baffled because I wasn’t sure what she expected me to do with it. I realized she was also studying the Liahona.
I turned to see what she was seeing. The pointers changed before our eyes. Now that I was firmly holding the book of Mahonri Moriancumr, the Lord was ready to reveal new instructions. The spindles directed us northward, deeper into the tunnel.
“This appears to be the only record we must worry about for now,” said Hamira.
“What are we supposed to do with it?”
She shrugged. “Take it with us on our journey. That’s what your oracle seems to be saying. We’ll leave the rest of the records for King Omer and the others.”
“You believe we’re supposed to carry this through the cavern?”
She glanced once more at the Liahona. “Do you interpret the message differently?”
I lowered my voice and said morosely, “I’ve already lost one sacred book, Hamira. You think I can be trusted not to lose another?”
“I don’t think anyone can be trusted.” She indicated the pointers. “But your God seems to trust you.”
I let this sink in. Would it be blasphemous to admit that it crossed my mind that God was wrong—that He was making a mistake?
I made one correction to Hamira’s word-choice. “Our God.”
She smiled resignedly. “Our God.”
She leaned in and kissed me again. This time soft and brief. This was becoming a hazardous habit. How could I maintain any concentration if she kept ambushing me like that?
She retrieved her torch, along with another sack that I presumed contained food. I had to wonder what could possibly be stored down here without spoiling, rotting, or decomposing.
“Are you ready to go?” she asked.
I nodded. “Let’s move.”
I hoisted the bag over my shoulder, where it sat against the sword of Akish, separated only by the bronze-colored material. Suddenly I paused. There was something else in the bag. Hamira watched as I set down the book on the cavern floor. I reopened the bag and found a second, smaller bag of the same material. As I raised it, I heard something knock together. The shape inside the pouch suggested something with a wire frame and perhaps a thin chain.
“Don’t open it,” Hamira warned.
“What is it?”
“Interpreters,” she said, her tone hushed. “Leave them where they are. They must never be separated from the plates. One day they will be used to translate the record.”
“Seerstones?” I set down my torch, prepared to open the pouch. She quickly placed her hand on top of mine. “You must not see them. No one has ever seen them. Not even my great-grandfather. They are sacred, like the record itself.”
I almost defied her. Hamira and King Omer may not have laid eyes on these Interpreters, but I felt sure I had seen them—when I was younger. My sister, Becky, had found two seerstones somewhere close to the entrance of Frost Cave. She’d assumed that Todd Finlay had dropped them there. Rebecca had carried them around her neck. We lost one of the stones near that whirling pillar of energy, but Rebecca had kept the other one. Ah, maybe they weren’t the same stones. I couldn’t know for sure unless I opened that pouch. Hamira’s eyes were pleading. I thought again of Raiders of the Lost Ark and melting faces. I decided it didn’t much matter if I saw them or not. The Liahona’s spindles were directing us to continue our journey. God was in control, I reminded myself. As long as we followed the Liahona and stuck to God’s instructions, all would be fine.
I expected the sword of Akish to make some obnoxious comment right then and there. Only moments earlier it had proclaimed that God would betray me. It had said that if I followed Hamira into the cavern, something terrible would happen. It had said God didn’t care about what happened to Hamira, only about the “bigger picture.” Hamira was expendable. The sword had warned that if I followed her, she would be sacrificed. I knew this was a lie. God wouldn’t let this happen. That’s when
I prayed that God would make the sword “shut up”—force it to stop haunting my thoughts. So far my prayer seemed to be holding.
Still, I felt as if it was stirring, breathing raggedly. “Hissing” might have been a better word. The sword, or whatever controlled it, plainly did not like the record of the brother of Jared or the Interpreters.
Hamira led the way, navigating a series of passages deeper into the mountain, always double-checking the Liahona. My thoughts still lingered on Hamira’s kisses. And on any glimpse I got of her face, her chocolate-colored eyes, or her perfectly shaped lips. They formed into a slight pout, but it certainly wasn’t unappealing. Where the two rounded halves of her upper lip came together there was a space. Maybe this was just the result of them becoming chapped in the sun once too often, but it gave the illusion that her lips were always puckered, ready to be perpetually kissed.
I shuddered and scolded myself again. Hamira seemed to be doing her best not to look at me or acknowledge my twitterpation in any way. Her concentration was calibrated on making forward progress through the narrow passage. Or maybe her disregard was only in my imagination. I hated my imagination right now. How could the passions of war and the emotions of love coexist in the same brain?
I thought about my army of nearly ten thousand men. What were they doing right now? Surely they’d been recalled to the city of Zenephi at the Hill Cumorah. They’d marched back to defend Mormon’s fortifications. I knew several of my fellow warriors, including my Snake Seeker, Nompak,
suspected the betrayal of my Banner Chief, Ammonchi. In light of this, I suspected my Fox troopers were presently being led by my second-in-command, Kigron. I liked Kigron. He was very capable. He was older than I was, but he’d never treated me with resentment or jealousy like other officers. He was a true believer that I was “Mormon reborn”—a commander with the same gifts as our illustrious Chief Captain. Like others, he believed I was protected and guided by Almighty God. Still, I’d never thought of Kigron as a strategist. He was a good officer, but did he have a talent for assembling and reassembling troops? Could he coordinate archers, slingers, dart throwers, and regular infantry in the heat of combat? I wasn’t sure. Shoot, I wasn’t sure if I had these gifts.
Yet, untested or not, I sensed strongly that I did. They were a part of me. Instinct. And I confess, I loved the game. I loved every moment. I looked forward to my first major battle the way a tiger looked forward to flushing out prey in the wilderness swiping its claws.
My infatuation for Hamira was discombobulating those instincts. How did other officers make it work? Captains with wives and families? How did Mormon do it? Or Moroni? Warfare was about audacity. About courage. About example. It was about not being afraid to die. Somehow I had to suffocate this intruding infatuation. My method was a little bizarre. My intent wasn’t exactly clear in my mind. I don’t think I realized that I was deliberately pushing Hamira away. But how else could my newest salvo of stupid questions be explained?
I said to Hamira, “I want to ask you something.”
Her guard seemed to spring up right away. “What?”
“You told me,” I began, “that you’d decided long ago that you could never be with a man who was not your equal or superior in all things—‘physical, mental, and spiritual.’ So who else fit the bill of being your equal or superior in those categories?”
I heard a long sigh. “I guess I should have been more specific. I should have identified ‘long ago’ as the time when I separated from the other Jaredites to travel with King Omer through the caverns at Ablom and build our hidden encampment.”
“You mean when you separated from the men?”
“Yes,” she snipped. “I should have explained that my decision never to be with someone who was not my equal or superior occurred about a year and a half ago, when I bid farewell to my brother.”
“A year and a half,” I repeated. “That’s what you meant by ‘long ago’?”
“Yes,” she repeated.
“Your brother Nimrah?”
“I only have one full brother,” she said. “That is, only one full brother still alive.”
“Seems convenient,” I noted, “swearing off those who aren’t equals or superiors when there’re no additional men to be found.”
She ignored me and kept trudging forward.
I was relentless. “So this first kisser—this man you later decided wasn’t your equal or superior—was he one of your brother’s companions?”
Hamira scowled. But she’d decided she wasn’t going to lie to me, no matter the consequences. “He was one of his lieutenants. One of his friends.”
“Does this friend have a name?”
She hesitated then replied, “Kentor. And to repeat, he is my brother’s friend, not mine.”
“Ken,” I said with a harrumph. Made sense. Hamira was like a chocolate-eyed Barbie. Why shouldn’t my competition be named Ken?
We journeyed in silence for a while, sometimes ascending, sometimes descending. I asked myself why I felt the need to be such a jerk, but again the answer was foggy.
“So this Ken,” I finally said. “Did you love him?”
She turned on me. “I told you that I have loved no one. And I do not wish to speak of these matters any further.”
“Did he love you?”
“I prefer silence,” she insisted, turning away. “No more questions.”
A moment later I said, “A man has a right to know.”
She turned on me harshly. “You have no right. I am guilty of nothing that your questions imply. Why are you doing this, Joshua? Why are you spoiling the feeling between us?”
“Because you said you’d never been kissed. Then suddenly you admit that you have been kissed. I want to know what to believe.”
“This kiss was far shorter in duration than even my last kiss to you. It might even be said that Kentor stole this kiss. I did not ‘give’ it to him.”
“So he’s a lecher. I see. Did you fight him off?”
“Joshua, son of . . . son of Garth, you are being ludicrous! Obviously kissing you was a mistake. I misjudged you in every possible way. You are no less petty and shallow than other men. Leave me alone!” Her voice reverberated through the chambers, forcing me to hear those last three words about seven times before her voice finally dissipated.
She kept meandering through the passage. She couldn’t even admit to misleading me. And deliberate or not, she had misled me. If she couldn’t confess or apologize, the silence between us was just fine.
At last we reached a place where the tunnel seemed to have collapsed. The wall was splintered across its face, and several massive boulders barred our passage.
“This is the spot,” said Hamira, her tone still curt, “where the earthquake demolished the tunnel. We must examine your oracle.” She refused to make eye contact as she spoke. I realized her cheeks were moist. The guilt I felt settled in hard. I’d not only kissed a girl today for the first time. I’d made her cry. I looked down at the Liahona. To my surprise, the spindles were separated. They directed us nowhere. A chill gripped me. This was my fault. I’d made the Liahona stop working. As if to confirm the reality of my rudeness—my loss of spiritual aid—I heard the sword laughing softly.
Don’t be hard on yourself, Joshua. You have a perfectly valid point. She lied to you. And as is the case with all conniving women, she’ll never apologize. No, she is not for you, Captain Josh. But what does it matter? I told you before,
she will soon be dead.
I raised my eyes to meet Hamira. She looked alarmed. Who could blame her? We had lost our compass—our guidance. I didn’t think twice. I knew exactly who needed to apologize, and it wasn’t Hamira.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“What?” Hamira asked, confused. She didn’t know I was addressing the problem of the disabled Liahona. Who cared about our trivial arguments when we might be lost in the underworld or blocked from making further progress?
“You’re right,” I confessed. “I’m neither your equal nor your superior. I’m a jerk. I might as well confess . . . you are the first girl I ever kissed, Hamira. And I don’t think . . . I’m handling these emotions very well. I’m very, very sorry.”
There was the flicker of a smile; then her features hardened again. Her tears seemed to dry up instantly. I even wondered if there had been tears. A trick of the torchlight. Maybe I was flattering myself. It could have just been perspiration.
“It’s fine, Joshua,” she said, drawing a drink from her leather canteen. After she dried her mouth, she said, “Forget it. I was wrong to let it happen. Forget that it even happened.”
I said nothing. I think I might’ve nodded. In any case, I didn’t feel any better. This irritated me. Shouldn’t I have felt relieved? I still felt unsettled.
Hamira glanced back at the Liahona. Incredibly, the spindles had come together. Whatever I’d done—whatever I’d said—it was enough. The Liahona was working again, directing us to the right. I looked to the right but saw no passage.
“There,” said Hamira softly.
She pointed upward. The torchlight betrayed a shadowed space in the ceiling, nearly hidden by blocks of stone. We started to climb.
Just beneath the ceiling, Hamira handed me her torch and pushed herself over a boulder. She peered ahead. “It’s thin, but I think we can fit.”
I watched in silence. I’d said nothing since she’d told me to forget our kiss. What was I supposed to say in reply?
She squeezed into the cleft and disappeared. I waited long enough that I started feeling foolish.
She reemerged. “Help me make an arrow.” She found a flat place at the base of a boulder and began gathering small stones. “The shaft is wide enough. King Omer will know we left this sign for them. He will follow.”
Her idea of an arrow was not one that had been shot from a bow. It was a triangular arrangement of stones, pointing right. After we’d finished, she climbed the boulder again and crawled into the passageway. She reached back. “Hand up the torch.”
I leaned closer and held it forward. She balanced the torch horizontally and crawled deeper. Carefully maneuvering my own torch and supplies, I pulled myself into the niche after her.
The space was narrow. I thought of the feeble King Omer and his young, pregnant wife, Queen Elorah. I shuddered to think of the difficulties they’d face here. I hauled myself forward with one hand, dragging the plates, the sword, and the Liahona while trying not to burn myself with drizzles of pitch. Hamira had scrambled far ahead. She’d gone around a sloping corner, and her feet were no longer visible. I only perceived the mild glow of her torch flame.
I thought about calling out for her to wait. Thankfully, I didn’t. A moment later I realized she’d stopped crawling. She was perfectly still, leaning close to a ledge, peeking over the side into a large chamber. I realized quickly what had made her pause. Our torches were not the only sources of light.
The vast room was caked in white and pink crystal. Forty feet below and some distance to the right of our perch marched an army of several dozen men, possibly more. They moved in an orderly manner from one end of the room to what appeared to be a tight passage at the far left. I could see the head of the column but not the rear. Warriors appeared from a tunnel at the right like carpenter ants. Every fourth or fifth warrior held a torch. The reflections shone against the crystals, making the room oddly similar to the interior of a Celestial Room inside a temple—one whose open house I’d attended as a kid.
The warrior’s uniforms were red. That is, their breastplates, head plates, and greaves were red. The shields on their backs shone like metal, as did the tips of their weapons. Several of the men near the front of the column wore different uniforms, bronze in color. One man wore a black helmet with copper gilding and a breastplate with a furry black sash interlaced with jade. He also carried a five-sided shield, also glinting with jade and copper. This shield had a menacing downward spike. Hamira saw this figure and made a terrible gasp. I waited for her to explain, but she was so overcome with shock that she couldn’t speak.
“What?” I whispered impatiently.
“My brother,” she said mournfully.
Her grief was deep, and I perceived tears in her eyes.
“Which brother?” I had to ask. After all, the sons of Mizerath were her half-brothers. But the name she whispered was that of her full brother, the son of Akish and Asherah: “Nimrah.”
I concentrated, trying to grasp the significance. Wasn’t Nimrah the good brother? Wasn’t he our ally? Based on Hamira’s expression, this was no longer true. She continued to crouch with no intention of revealing our presence.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” said Hamira gravely, “that my great-grandfather is betrayed.”
I gaped, still not comprehending. Prior to this moment, I’d understood that there were two armies at each other’s throats among the Jaredites—the armies of Akish and the armies of his sons, Hathrom and Elam, born to his second wife, Mizerath. King Omer, Asherah, Hamira, and the two
hundred or so women from Omer’s encampment were a separate entity from both of these armies. They’d been hiding for almost two years in hopes that these two forces might wipe each other out. Supposedly Nimrah had supported his great-grandfather alongside two other sons of King Omer.
I asked Hamira, “Do you see Prince Coriantumr or Prince Esrom?”
She shook her head, her grief palpable. “I see enemies. My brother marches with Hathrom and Elam, the sons of Mizerath.”
The warriors at the front of the column were almost directly below us—two men with red head plates and breastplates and scarlet tattoos on every limb and a good portion of their faces and necks. It seemed odd—I perceived a family resemblance to Akish, but not Hamira.
I examined Nimrah, the man with the five-sided shield and copper helmet. Despite his impressive weapons and armor, he was a bizarre-looking man. If I’d thought Akish was ugly, Nimrah and these other sons were not far behind. Nimrah was easily the most revolting to the eyes. He was also the most fearsome, with tiny, shifting eyes and an enormous, jutting forehead, visible even beneath the rim of his helmet. His whole body was misshapen—squat legs with massive, muscled shoulders. He appeared so unbalanced that I wondered, if he fell over, would he be able to stand up again? All the genes of Akish and Asherah that determined attractiveness had been lavishly spent on Hamira and wasted elsewhere.
These were three of the strangest-looking men I’d ever seen. Ghoulish, primeval, something between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.
I tried to digest this information—the sight of Nimrah marching with his younger half-brothers. I wasn’t sure what it meant. “If that’s Elam and Hathrom,” I whispered to Hamira, “then where’re Coriantumr and Esrom?”
I could barely hear her reply. “If Nimrah marches with the sons of Mizerath, then Coriantumr and Esrom are dead.” A pair of tears coursed her cheeks.
I studied her face then tried to comfort her with an alternative.
“Maybe Nimrah is a captive.”
Hamira shook her head. Nimrah had weapons, and he was attentive to the nooks and crannies of the cavern, as if he feared an ambush. A captive wouldn’t have carried a shield and looked around for opponents. He had to be allied with those around him. The other soldiers were also wary. We shrank further back. I hoped the chamber’s temple-like reflections would somehow hide the glow of our torches.
I remembered a tidbit of conversation from a few days earlier in the tent of King Omer. Hamira and her sister, Uguleth, had claimed that spies had once infiltrated their camp. Two of the spies were killed, but a third escaped. The slain men were identified as cousins of Akish, allies of the warriors in black. But Hamira claimed the man who’d escaped was the son of Mizerath named Hathrom. No one had believed Hamira. Uguleth said she’d made up the story of a third spy because she’d fallen asleep on
If Hamira’s story was true and the escaped spy was, indeed, Hathrom, then I was confused. The sons of Mizerath were outfitted in red uniforms, like most of those below us. Anyone associated with Akish, however, wore black. So why would Hathrom have been mixed up with Akish’s cousins at the river canyon? Who was allied with whom? Based on the evidence I was seeing, there were really only two factions at war: Akish and his sons (whether of Asherah or Mizerath) and the followers of King Omer.
I said to Hamira, “Maybe your uncles escaped. Maybe they’re hiding—”
She grabbed the lip of my Fox Division breastplate and yanked me down hard. The warriors below us had stopped. They held their torches high, everyone’s attention riveted toward our shelf. So stupid. Yes, I’d kept my voice low, but I’d forgotten that the cavern could amplify a whisper and make it resound like a trumpet. We crouched low, trying to breathe softly. I knew that even the scrape of my sandal would betray our presence. Our torches lay on the ground, but the glow they emitted was surely
distinctive. The enemy knew we were here.
“Who’s up there?” hollered a voice, echoing numerous times through the chamber. “Reveal yourselves!”
We didn’t budge. Hamira looked at me and mouthed the name, “Hathrom.”
Another voice proclaimed, “We see your torches! Reveal yourselves!”
We didn’t move. I heard the snap of bowstrings. The fragile shale above and below us spit tiny eruptions of stone. Pebbles sprinkled down on us. They were hoping these projectiles would flush us out. Eight or ten more arrows were wasted before the second voice bellowed, “Who is your king? Akish or Omer?”
Hamira looked at me and mouthed the identity of the speaker.
How should we answer? Which answer made us allies and which made us adversaries? Maybe neither answer would earn a positive response. I studied Hamira, wondering if she’d rise up and declare her loyalty to Omer. She remained silent, grabbed up her torch, and hoisted herself forward. Five yards up the ledge, she disappeared into another tunnel, still high above Nimrah and his comrades. I followed her, drawing additional arrow-fire. Once more the iron-tipped missiles harmlessly flecked the stone. The closest call was an arrowhead that whisked through my torch flame, nearly spearing my wrist. Seconds later Hamira and I had slipped safely into the tunnel beyond the ledge.
“Find them!” we heard a voice cry from the chamber behind us.
The echo of the warriors’ feet scattering in multiple directions sounded like a herd of mustangs. They hoped to discover a passage that would take them to our position and corner us like sheep. Moments later our tunnel branched into three separate forks. I looked at the Liahona.
“This way,” I called to Hamira.
Our route took us farther away from the ruckus of Nimrah and the sons of Mizerath.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why would Nimrah betray Prince Esrom and Prince Coriantumr?”
Hamira’s voice exuded her emotional trauma. “For the same reason that Asherah and my sisters betrayed them. They want my brother to be king.”
“I thought the sons of Mizerath wanted to be king,” I said. “Why are they now supporting Nimrah?”
Hamira pinched her eyes shut, trying to think. Obviously this new alliance wasn’t entirely comprehensible. It confused her as much as me.
“It doesn’t matter,” she finally said in frustration. “Our loyalty is to King Omer.”
She took the lead and continued up the inclining tunnel. I followed, pondering the situation. It was a curious question: Why would Hamira choose her great-grandfather over her brother? Seemed to me this was one very screwed up family. Maybe her choice was based on emotion. Or the Holy Spirit. Whatever the case, Hamira’s commitment to King Omer was firm.
All other disturbances and echoes in the cavern disappeared. It appeared that we’d lost our pursuers. The path continued ever higher. I continually checked and re-checked the Liahona. Our lungs were heaving, and our pores were sweating buckets. It was time to rest.
The tunnel widened into a very unusual room. Shafts of sunlight pierced holes in the ceiling of various sizes and shapes. The shafts were slanted, indicating that the sun above was in midmorning or late afternoon. The openings were fifty feet or more overhead, impossible to reach without a ladder from a fire truck. The knowledge that daylight still existed comforted any feelings of claustrophobia lurking inside me.
Hamira dodged the stones and boulders that littered the floor. She wandered into one of the light shafts and shut her eyes, breathing deeply, basking like a lizard. I found my own slanted pillar of dusty sunlight and sat upon a stone to rest.
“We can’t stay long,” said Hamira, more to herself. She reached into her shoulder pack and shared several hard corn biscuits and wild onions. “We don’t know when Nimrah and the sons of Mizerath will catch up to us.”
“They may be headed in an entirely different direction,” I said, guzzling from my water skin and pouring some liquid onto my face to wash away the sweat.
“If, like us, they are searching for a way to Ablom and a route that takes them back to the lands of our inheritance, they will arrive here eventually,” said Hamira.
“Do you recognize this room?” I asked. “Did King Omer and his company pass this way before?”
She nodded hesitantly. “I believe so. It may have been night. There was no sunlight shining through openings above.”
“What,” I asked prudently, “will happen if your brother finds us?”
She said soberly, “He will kill us both.”
“You’re his sister,” I said, wondering if this would change her answer.
She pondered this. “He will kill you,” she corrected. “As for me—” She sat heavily on a broken stone across from me. “I suppose I’m not exactly sure.”
Something fell from above. Something small. I watched it drop through a shaft of light. Since the light shone at an angle, the object disappeared in shadow near the floor. I heard it squeal as it hit, so I presumed it was a field mouse or a chipmunk. It was a fifty-foot drop, but such animals didn’t weigh much to begin with, so I supposed it survived.
It always seemed odd to me when animals made a mistake. I mean, such creatures are made up of instinct, right? They didn’t normally have “accidents.” A thought struck me, fleeting and seemingly inconsequential. I wondered if other types of creatures might have fallen into this pit.
Suddenly I heard Hamira cry out.
Drums of Desolation, Chapter One. Copyright@ July 2014, Chris Heimerdinger