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Chapter 13     

The Voice of the People

        Moroni's war room held three familiar officers discussing strategies with each other, but with an air of distraction. They awaited word of potentially distressing news. The door opened. Helaman entered. Moroni, Lehi, and Teancum immediately stopped their conversation and listened for the news he bore.

"Moroni, it's just as we feared, chief judge Nephihah has lived a long and fruitful life and has now been called home to the Lord who gave him breath. His son, Pahoran, will succeed him. May he judge in righteousness as his father did before him.""

Helaman had confirmed their fears. The men bowed their heads respectfully. 

~~~ - ~~~ 

The Nephite council chamber was the most tangible representation of the Nephite's civil government. Its stone walls were decorated with colorful tapestries, but with modest designs so as not to distract. Pahoran sat at the head of two tables joined together in a wide "V" arrangement. A series of lower judges sat behind the tables, to Pahoran's left and right. Various men sat and others stood facing the judges from the audience chamber.

One of the men stood in the center facing the judges. He spoke passionately. The others in the room were emotionally attached to the points he was contending. Pahoran raised his hand to command attention and silence the man. To add emphasis, he broke tradition and actually rose part way, with his other hand supporting him on the table.

This support was merely for balance, not brought on by age or other need. Pahoran was a powerful-looking man in his mid-thirties, dignified and well-bred, but also with an air of keen understanding of the ways of the common people. Pahoran spoke loudly and with authority, but avoided yelling, though it was clear that he was on the verge of losing his temper. He was a man accustomed to controlling his passions.

"No, Elam, no. It's that simple. We are NOT changing the law. The law stands clear and will stay clear. We are ruled by judges by choice, not by accident. Haven't you learned anything from the trouble Amalickiah has caused this people?" Pahoran restated.

"Yes, I've learned that our leaders are so cowardly that they have to hide behind walls of dirt and sticks rather than offer true leadership and rid our land of our enemies!" Elam chided.

"We fight and we kill, but we only do so out of the necessity to protect our rights. When there's an alternative, we follow it," Pahoran clarified.

"That's because you're cowardly fools," Elam scoffed.

"No, that's because we value life, even those of our enemies," Pahoran corrected.

"You are fools who bring disgrace to yourselves, your families, and this people. The law must change to allow this proud people to be led by a man capable of leading," Elam added.

"We're not changing the law in any way that will allow you — or anyone else with high aspirations — to crown themselves king. Your words are bordering on insurrection and treason. I highly recommend you cease this prattle, now!" Pahoran warned.

Pahoran looked to the guards who stood in the wings by either end of the tables. They straightened and turned their gaze on Elam, indicating their preparation to engage in their unique duties to quell disturbances caused by either crowds or individuals.

"I will not be silenced, and your peasant army isn't going to stop me. Oh, you can silence me here for the moment, but this isn't the end." Elam defiantly whipped around and left without allowing Pahoran to respond, and in direct contradiction to chamber room protocol.

Pahoran began to respond, but stopped himself as he saw that Elam was intent on leaving, and he recognized that any more words would be just so much more contention. He continued to stand as Elam and his cronies left. Once the judges had the room to themselves, Pahoran sat and spoke.

"We had a king and that nearly led to our total downfall. The system of judges is still the best way to lead this people."

"And how do the people receive these judges? By common consent," one of the judges pointed out. "Elam is only one, representing dozens of angry king-men. We'll not put an end to this strife until we put this to a vote."

"A vote?" Pahoran's eyes brightened, "Now there's the best words I've heard spoken in this chamber since I took on this seat. Most certainly. We'll put this to a vote of the people. When the king-men lose by a public lack of support, they'll have no grounds to contend," Pahoran paused, pondering his own words. "Yes, very well. It's time to send out word for a public vote." Pahoran slapped the table with his hand to add enthusiastic emphasis.

"What if they vote for a king? And what if that turns out to be Elam?" another of the judges asked with a worried look.

Pahoran turned and looked the judge directly in the eye. He intended no malice. He simply wanted to drive his point home. He stated with emphasis, "Then the people will deserve exactly what they get." 

~~~ - ~~~ 

Zarahemla, the capital city of the Nephite civilization, stood nobly surrounded by the dense rainforest and hills. Today, it was filled with citizens anxious to determine the future of their way of life and the means of directing their society. By sunset they would know if they would continue to be ruled by judges, or if they would revert back to a system of kings. Too few generations had passed for the memories to have faded of a time when they had suffered under the hands of a power-hungry and arrogant king who corrupted their government, weakened their military, and allowed them to become enslaved by the Lamanites.

The square was crowded with people waiting to voice their feelings on the matter through a public vote. Many stood in a long line that led to the voting apparatus. Those who had already voted milled about. Pahoran and two judges sat in chairs above the apparatus, overseeing the judging.

Moroni, Helaman, and Lehi were present down below in the city square observing and informally helping to ensure that this was a peaceful event. Teancum and Sephara also stood there hand in hand. Sephara was quite noticeably pregnant. There were scattered arguments between the king-men and the freemen throughout the square, but no serious confrontations.

The line of voters moved slowly, but continuously. The next man in line stepped forward. He was a simple man dressed in modest means bearing the demeanor of one unaccustomed to having his opinion heard. Yet, today, he had the opportunity to choose his society's destiny. A guard allowed him to step forward and he walked up a ramp to the top of the city wall's catwalk.

Once there, he approached a table at the feet of the judges, who sat in chairs on a platform above the voting apparatus. The voter picked up a token and walked over to the voting apparatus. He showed the judges his token before turning his back to them and facing the voting apparatus. The apparatus had a small platform on the top, with a hole on either side of it. By the hole on the one half was a symbol of a crown. A carving of the Title of Liberty resided by the other opening. Placing his token in the hole adjacent to one of the two symbols would determine his vote.

The man on the voting platform was in full view of the city square, so that all could see him. Because he was on a raised platform, the people would not be able to see how he voted. The judges' presence behind him ensured that no one was swaying his vote. The holes were close together so that with his back to the judges, they too could not see how the man voted. In this way, public voting was kept secure and democratic, while also preserving the confidentiality of individual preference.

As the man dropped his token into the slot, he paused for a moment to listen to it drop. The voting apparatus consisted of a wooden funnel that went down and split into two separate tunnels. It spread out in two directions at forty-five degree angles, forming an upside down letter "Y."

 A large holding area at the base of each funnel held the voting tokens. These funnels were tilted outward at a forty-five degree angle, evidently for allowing them to transfer their contents into some sort of external container. The bottom of each funnel was closed by a trap door.

The anxious crowd pressed toward the voting apparatus, hoping to discern which way the vote was going. The guards kept the area clear, however. With each dropping of a token, the crowd would fall silent, hoping  to tell by the sound which side the tokens fell. But, the dull thudding of the tokens cascading downward through the apparatus and coming to a rest on previously-deposited tokens was too muffled and the funnels too close together for anyone to be certain.

Hours passed. Finally, the line of voters had completely dissipated. Pahoran stood and faced the city square.

"Is there anyone who has not voted?" he called out in a booming voice that echoed throughout the square.

The people looked about them. No one stepped forward. All eyes returned to Pahoran as a hush fell upon the crowd. A sense of deep anticipation hung in the air. The moment of decision was nigh.

"Bring in the Vote Scale!" he loudly declared.

With this, the crowd's eyes turned toward a large door that opened with a sudden push from within. A series of itchy, rolling squeaks could be heard coming from the recesses of the building. They continued to crescendo until at last the Vote Scale began to come into view.

Two, large wooden wheels were the first portions of the apparatus to catch the rays of the sun. Two more sets of wheels also emerged from the building, bound together by a wooden platform four feet square. Each wheel had a man leaning into it, forcing the wheel to turn and pushing the apparatus forward.

An eight-foot tall beam rose directly up from the center of the platform. It was topped by another beam of equal length that rested horizontally on the support beam. The top beam was balanced with equal portions extending to either side of the support beam. It was held in place by a crude hinge that allowed either end of the top beam to dip and climb as the men continued to push the Vote Scale forward.

Hanging from either end of the top beam were long ropes that descended to within a yard of the ground. Both sets of ropes held within them a metal tray the length and width of a man's shield. The trays lay horizontally, ready to bear whatever would be poured into them.

Two guards preceded the Vote Scale on its brief journey. Two more guards followed it. These guards were followed by a single, dignified man in official garb, similar to what was worn by Pahoran and the judges on the voting platform. He was the Vote Judge. The crowd parted and allowed the cart to be wheeled to the center of the square. It stopped just below the voting apparatus.

The Vote Judge turned and motioned for two men to step forward. Each carried a large basket. They each dumped a large weight out of their baskets and onto the ground. They then placed the baskets on each side of the scale. The weight man on the left placed his weight into his basket. The crossbeam tipped quickly, its metal tray plummeting to the earth accepting his weight. The second Weight Man then placed his weight on the other end of the balance. The crossbeam tipped back into equilibrium.

The Weight Men looked at the Vote Judge. He looked up at Pahoran who nodded. The Vote Judge looked down and nodded to the Weight Men. They pulled their baskets off of the Vote Scale and switched them. They replaced the baskets on the opposite sides and validated that the scale balanced either way. They looked to the Vote Judge who again received visual confirmation from Pahoran and turned to the crowd.

"I declare this a valid measurement! Let the vote judgment commence!" the Vote Judge decreed.

The Weight Men removed their weights from the baskets and ensured the scales were directly beneath each trap door of the voting apparatus with the empty baskets positioned directly beneath each funnel ready to receive the voting tokens. The Weight Man that was on the King-men's side of the balance pulled the lever on that trap door.

The voting tokens spilled into the basket and the crossbeam tipped at an increasing rate, indicating a healthy number of votes for a king. Elam, who had been pacing the square all day, nodded and smiled approvingly. His supporters patted him on the back.

Sephara maintained her strong character in spite of her pregnancy. However, she could not help but let out a gasp of dread at the distressingly high number of King-men votes. She looked to Teancum who patted her hand that was now wrapped firmly around his arm. He nodded for her to keep watching.

The other Weight Man pulled the trap door from under the Freeman bin. It spilled its contents into the basket in a continuous rain. The scale tipped quickly beyond equilibrium and then the Freeman scale was plastered onto the ground as more voting tokens poured onto it to overflowing. Tokens continued to tumble for several moments. The crowd cheered enthusiastically. Elam and a handful of his cohorts gained bitter faces and turned and left in disgust. Pahoran observed their exit, as did Moroni.

Amidst the cheers, Teancum shouted to Moroni, "We did it! We've won!" and he gave his wife an excited hug.

"Yes, it appears we've won the vote," Moroni confirmed. "I believe it's safe to assume that the results from the other cities will bear that out. But, I'm afraid we haven't won the heart of every man. I fear this is not yet over."

Pahoran nodded to Moroni from above, giving him an indication of the complete results. Moroni acknowledged and returned the nod.

The celebration within the city square continued. Meanwhile, on the other side of the great city wall, nested far away among the thick trees of the jungle that surrounded the area, westward toward a brilliant red sunset, something else was transpiring. Faint wisps of smoke were beginning to rise up through the tall trees and wend its way through their tops and up into the open air.

This was the first indication that an unrelenting enemy was on the move. Amalickiah himself stood speaking angrily to Ammoron and a handful of other officers. They bore armor and their faces were painted with war paint.

In Zarahemla, a watchtower guard turned to admire the splendid sunset. But, he paid more attention to something else that caught his eye. What was it he saw? Was it smoke? Mist? Clouds? No, it must be smoke. Once he felt certain that his eyes did not deceive him, concern filled his soul. He knew that this could only mean one thing: campfires.

His mouth opened in a shout of alarm, "Lamanites! Lamanites!"

He turned and shouted directly down into the square. "Lamanites! I see Lamanite campfires! Captain Moroni! The Lamanites are coming!"

There was a bustle of activity below as word got out. Moroni dashed up to the watchtower.

"Where?!" he demanded.

The Tower Guard pointed, "There, directly west!"

"I see it," Moroni confirmed.

Moroni shouted to the guard on the opposite wall, "Sound the alarm! We must have every man prepared!"

The man blew an ancient-looking horn that gave an immense reverberating low pitch that was heard throughout the city. He gave two long, slow blasts followed by three short ones. He repeated the signal three times. Birds in the jungle shrieked and took flight. Frightened monkeys and other jungle animals jumped and chided. Far off where the campfires burned, Amalickiah looked up at the sound of birds shrieking and flying. He also made out the distant echoes of the warning horn tapering off.

"Good, our presence has been noticed," Amalickiah smiled. "I want Moroni to know what I'm up to. His little kingdom is about to be disturbed."

In Zarahemla, Elam and his men, who had stormed angrily beyond the square, stopped in their tracks. Elam turned at the sound of the horn. His countenance again opposed that of his fellow, worried Nephites. His showed a sense of actual glee and enthusiasm.

"Well, isn't that wonderful timing?! It sounds like our old friend Amalickiah is making a come back. Let's go see the party," he said to his men.

He and his men returned to the city square that was quickly filling again with people. Moroni was busily shouting orders from where he stood on a platform, a few paces from where Pahoran and the two judges still sat. Elam and his men worked their way forward until they were directly below Moroni, in the square.

"... All men grab your weapons! Each man is to take his position just as we've gone over in past drills!" Moroni ordered.

The men scurried about obeying orders. Moroni noticed Elam standing with his legs spread and arms folded, defiantly looking back at him.

"Elam, get your men to the east wall!" Moroni ordered.

Elam remained stoic.

"Elam, get your men to the east wall! Now!" Moroni repeated.

Elam still refused to move, and stood stubbornly defiant, digging his heels into the sandy dirt that covered the city square.

"Elam, now is not the time! Get your men to the east wall!" Moroni shouted with as much of a threatening edge as he could muster.

When Elam still refused to move, Moroni turned to Pahoran. "Pahoran, chief judge, our enemy is nearly upon us and these King-men, who have lost their grievance through a true and proper vote of the people still refuse to support the cause of liberty. Their refusal to take their places weakens our defense and poses a threat to the safety of our society. As such, it is tantamount to treason. In accordance with our laws, I ask for your permission to compel these men to fight. Or, if they refuse to fight, I ask that the law be honored and the treasonous men be put to death, lest their rebellious insurrection spread further."

"As my father, the chief judge before me, had great trust in your judgment and advice, I do the same. I know the law, and you are correct. As you are our nation's military leader, I grant you your request. Do what you must to compel these men to protect the cause of liberty among this people, but ensure that what you do stays within the bounds of the law which has been established by the voice of this people," Pahoran decreed.

"I understand, and will obey," Moroni responded. Then, he turned again to Elam. "Elam, the chief judge himself has granted me the right to compel you to fight in our defense. You and your men will go to the east wall and protect this people or you will forfeit your lives!"

Elam responded by drawing his sword and pointing it at Moroni. Moroni did not allow Elam to perceive the dismay he felt. He knew there was only one way to deal with such defiance and that was to carry out his threats. He knew all too well that if he let Elam get away with his actions, there would be others who would later try the same defiance. He had to stem off this insurrection here and now if he was going to ensure lasting unity among his Nephite brethren.

Moroni motioned for his men to march forward toward Elam and his men. Rather than submit, Elam and his men began a desperate sword battle. Elam's men fought vigorously, with Elam giving the lead. They were defiant, bold and daring, but no match for Moroni's men. Three quarters of Elam's men fell by the sword.

Elam himself scrambled to the top of a well and fought while standing on the edge. A sword cut into his side and he fell into the well. His body came to rest far below inside the well's large bucket. Elam did not move. His life and his insurrection both came to an abrupt halt. The remainder of Elam's king-men quickly gave up. They knelt and surrendered their swords to Moroni's men.

It was not long before these begrudgingly repentant men found themselves guarding the east wall. They were far from happy about it, but they were guarding it nonetheless.

©1999, 2003, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer

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