In Pursuit of Power
The Lamanite king paced furiously. He had become accustomed to having his orders meticulously obeyed. Reluctance he could handle, but out and out refusal was wholly unthinkable. Amalickiah was by his side, dressed in the fineries of an advisor.
""How can they disobey me?! I won't tolerate this!" the king ranted.
"They claim they don't want to break their oath. The oath they swore to the Nephites, that the Nephites themselves have broken," Amalickiah slyly egged on the king.
The king caught the meaning behind Amalickiah's dig, "Their oath to the Nephites! What about their loyalty to me?! I can't allow this! This is insurrection!"
"They need to be taught to honor their king and obey his will."
"Yes, and follow his orders! Amalickiah, in this short while, you have served me well. You have proven your loyalty by risking your life to bring me your news. I want you to take charge of those who are loyal to me and round up those who are not. In this way we can put an end to this disloyalty. Will you do this?" The king looked searchingly at his new advisor's face.
Amalickiah straightened and attempted to display pure and total loyalty, "Yes, your majesty. It would be an honor. What do you wish me to do?"
"What I wish is that you will take my army and round up these rebels, these - these 'oath-keepers' and teach them to obey their true and rightful king."
"As you wish it, so shall it be done." Upon this, Amalickiah bowed respectfully to the king. The king nodded approvingly. Amalickiah left to carry out his orders.
Neither of them paid any heed to the king's guards who stood silently protecting the entrance to the throne room. One in particular had overheard the orders. As soon as his shift replacement arrived, he slipped out of the building and made his way through the city streets. He entered a small building where a large group of people had huddled together for a clandestine meeting.
The oath-keepers turned for word from the king's guard. He spoke with an air of disappointment and concern, "It's just as we feared. The king has given orders to round us up and 'teach' us to obey. He's put this Nephite, Amalickiah, in charge of finding us."
A charismatic leader named Lehonti spoke up, "It's good that we had anticipated this. Give the order to have everyone move out. Go from house to house to those who have sworn to uphold their oaths. We should be long gone by morning. With any luck we can reach the hill Antipas within a week's march. We should be able to hold up there for quite some time."
~~~ - ~~~
The blackness of the moonless night was disrupted by a splattering of campfires at the base of the hill Antipas. Amalickiah's soldiers restlessly waited for the dawn and their attack. They knew full well that with Lehonti and his men, encamped at the top of this steep, natural fortress, success would be much more awkward than had they overtaken them on the plain.
Some peered up the hillside trying in vain to get a feel for the size and strength of Lehonti's force. They wondered if it were dozens, hundreds, or more. All they could manage to discern was the reflective glow of many campfires now and then lighting the trees and brush that surrounded the upper end of this craggy hill.
Amalickiah sat hunched over a makeshift, portable wooden table in his tent. His concentration was poised on his writing. A soldier stood at the ready patiently awaiting his orders. With a final stroke of his charcoal pen, Amalickiah sat upright. He held his latest masterpiece in his hand and silently reread it to himself. A wicked smirk crept across his face, and his eyes lit up with delight as he read. Upon conclusion, he nodded approvingly. It would do.
He rolled the note up as a scroll and stuffed it gingerly into a standard message tube, made of bamboo with leather caps on either end, held in place by leather ties. He finished tying on the top cap and handed the tube to his soldier. The soldier was already pulling the longer strap that was attached to either end of the message tube around his shoulder for safe keeping as Amalickiah gave his final instruction, "Take this up to Lehonti. Don't fail me!"
"Yes, sir," the messenger responded with only moderate interest, only wanting to fulfill the order quickly and then retire for the night.
The messenger stepped out of the tent and looked up the black hillside. It qualified as a "hill" in only the most academic of terms, being simply too short to be considered a "mountain." This one fact did not make the ascent any simpler. Even with the switchback hairpin turns, the climb was tedious and taxing, not the kind of jaunt one looked forward to in broad daylight, let alone by torchlight.
The noble warrior reached the crest of the climb only to be met by Lehonti's guards.
"I bear a message for Lehonti from Amalickiah. I seek admittance," he stated.
Lehonti's guards admitted him. They led him quickly to Lehonti's tent. He delivered his message and awaited the reply.
As Lehonti, the fugitive leader, read Amalickiah's message, he could not help but allow a few words of surprise escape his thoughts and become verbalized, "'Come down and meet him?' I will do no such thing! It's obviously a trap."
Upon completing his reading, Lehonti turned to Amalickiah's messenger, "Tell your esteemed leader I will do no such thing."
"Did you wish to write a message?" the messenger braved the question.
"No, I do not wish to write a message. I wish you to tell him he need not bother waiting for me. I won't be coming," Lehonti replied with a tinge of sarcasm and derision.
The descent was physically no better than the climb. In some ways it was more awkward to maintain balance. The soldier's thoughts, however, were not on his balance. He was more concerned about sharing Lehonti's refusal with Amalickiah, especially since it was to be done devoid of any tangible evidence that the message came from Lehonti.
Upon return to base-camp, the messenger allowed Amalickiah's guard to announce him. Amalickiah called for him to enter without delay. To the messenger's relief and surprise, Amalickiah was not deterred by Lehonti's refusal. For a moment, he sensed that Amalickiah had actually expected it.
"Ask him once more," Amalickiah announced, taking the messenger further off his guard.
"But, he's already refused -" the messenger made the potentially fatal error of questioning the order.
Amalickiah held his tone, but with more than just a hint of threat stated, "Humor me. Or, do I need a new courier?"
"No, sir. That will not be necessary," the messenger replied while observing Amalickiah finger his sword.
"I didn't think so. Be quick!" Amalickiah added as he gave an ominous grin and nodded approvingly.
The foreboding ascent was again undertaken. Rocks, potholes, twists, turns, and brambles that were once unknown emerging obstacles, brought into consciousness by the flicker of torchlight, now appeared as familiar milestones on the thrice-taken path.
Again the guards admitted the messenger into Lehonti's tent. Again Lehonti shook his head. This time, he shouted his refusal to the hapless courier and ushered him back to the arduous path. This time, the messenger's thoughts were even more grim as he contemplated, step by step during the descent, the reconfirmation of the traitorous leader's refusal to satisfy Amalickiah's request.
With heavy feet and prolonged steps the soldier shamefully noted his hesitation to return to Amalickiah's tent. He was, after all, a warrior not a whimpering boy. "Who is this Nephite who should order me about in the night?" In answer to his own question, the thought formed, "The ambassador of your king, with the power to take life with more ease than you trod this path."
Regardless, when the time came, the soldier announced his return and was led into Amalickiah's tent. He found his leader pacing impatiently. Amalickiah turned and demanded to know Lehonti's reply, "Well?!"
The soldier nearly shook, but again mustered his warrior's pride and courage to give his report, "He refuses to come, sir."
Amalickiah maintained his unpredictability and calmly responded, "I anticipated that. Give him this reply."
Amalickiah handed him a new scroll he had already prepared, much to the surprise of the courier. The soldier was at first perplexed, but glancing at Amalickiah's sword, he did not question the order and headed back up the hillside.
For the third time, the sleepless messenger found himself standing in Lehonti's tent watching the man read a note. In this case, Lehonti was nodding approvingly and even managed a smile. Again Lehonti mumbled to himself while reading. "Bring as many men as I wish? ... He'll be alone halfway down? ... Well, I'd certainly see if he tried to bring his men...."
Lehonti paused only momentarily, and then looked up at the courier, "Tell Amalickiah I'll be there by the time he arrives. With my men."
The soldier dutifully replied, "Yes, sir," and turned to leave.
~~~ - ~~~
Lehonti and his guards stood awaiting Amalickiah on a landing on the hillside. They had both torches and swords. Amalickiah emerged from the darkness. He was clearly alone. Even his tireless messenger had been left behind for this trek up the hillside. The scheming emissary of the king began to speak even as he walked into view of the torchlight.
"Lehonti, thank goodness you have agreed to this meeting! You are a wise and prudent man. This fighting is clearly wrong. I don't know what more we can do to help the king see this. He seems bent on destroying the Nephites. Our men need to be united in our efforts to stop this conflict."
"I thought you were the cause of the king's proclamation," Lehonti stated with suspicion.
"Me?!" Amalickiah feigned surprise. "I seek only peace! That's what I told the king upon our first meeting! You and I must join forces to secure peace."
"Join forces? How? Your men are on a quest to destroy mine," Lehonti was taken off guard.
"I know this," Amalickiah agreed. "That's why it was imperative that we meet tonight. I know how we can join forces and unify the loyalty of both our men."
"And what do you propose?" Lehonti was intrigued.
"Under the cover of night, bring your men down and surround my army. When they awake, they'll see that they're at your mercy. You'll be viewed as a wise and powerful adversary. My men will appeal for mercy. I'll step forward and negotiate with you. When you agree to allow my men to join yours, rather than destroy them, you'll win their hearts. And, I'll save face for having negotiated this great truce with you."
Lehonti considered the proposal and surmised, "This sounds reasonable, but then what? What more will you want of me once this is done?"
"All I ask is that you allow me to retain a portion of my position. I will deliver up my army to you, if you will let me be your second in command," Amalickiah offered.
"My second? Nothing more?"
"That is all. I seek only peace."
"Do you swear that this is your intent?"
"I swear that as the Lord lives and as I live, if you do as I have said, I will do the same. These armies will be yours and you shall be their unquestioned leader."
"So be it," Lehonti nodded. "We meet at dawn. I go to muster my men."
"So be it."
Amalickiah and Lehonti shook hands then both turned to go. As Amalickiah faced away from Lehonti, he paused only long enough to allow a wicked grimace creep across his face. Its sinister intent was heightened by the shifting shadows from the torches. He headed back down the mountainside.
~~~ - ~~~
Dawn arrived. As Amalickiah's army awakened. They saw that Lehonti's men had entirely surrounded their camp and stood ready to attack. The main officers rushed to Amalickiah's tent. Amalickiah dashed out feigning surprise. The men watched with intense interest as the officers negotiated with him. They anxiously encouraged Amalickiah to follow his officer's recommendations. Although the other soldiers were unable to overhear the officers' negotiations with Amalickiah, it seemed to them that they were recommending that he surrender. This seemed the most prudent course to them. They were greatly relieved when it became clear that Amalickiah had finally nodded in agreement.
He approached the place where Lehonti stood. The king's army again watched as their newest leader negotiated with Lehonti. The two leaders shook hands. Amalickiah faced his troops. It was made evident to all that he had agreed to fall in with Lehonti when he ceremoniously handed Lehonti his sword, who returned it with equal ceremony. Amalickiah's men cheered. The army was one.
~~~ - ~~~
Still encamped, Lehonti and Amalickiah and their chief officers dined in the officers' tent. Amalickiah's chief officers consisted mainly of Ammoron, Ishmael, and two of the Lamanite king's key officers. Amalickiah nodded to Ishmael across the table. Ishmael acknowledged the nod. As the servant with the wine began to fill Ishmael's glass, Ishmael purposely knocked his spoon to the ground.
As the servant bent to retrieve the utensil, Ishmael reached for his half-filled glass. He leaned forward as he slipped a small bag containing powder out of his pocket. Ensuring that no one noticed, he poured a portion of the powder into the glass. The servant stood and placed the spoon back on the table and finished filling the glass.
"Please, give my drink to our leader," Ishmael instructed the servant. "He is more deserving of its refreshing qualities than I."
The servant was confused, but decided it was better to not question. He gave the glass to Lehonti, filled with both wine and the powder. Lehonti acknowledged receipt and raised the glass to drink a toast, "To the wisdom of Amalickiah for knowing how to bring peace to two warring armies!" All toasted him and drank.
Later that night, Lehonti lay on his bed, he rolled back and forth in severe pain, unable to sleep for sickness. He was sweaty and fitful. He called to a servant, "Bring me a drink! Something to tame my burning tongue! Anything!"
Ishmael had lingered nearby. He filled a glass with more powder and wine and handed it to Lehonti's servant when he hurried out in search of a drink for his master. He thanked Ishmael and entered Lehonti's tent. Lehonti drank. His pains did not subside throughout the long night.
By morning, he was unconscious from the pain, not from sleep. Amalickiah approached Lehonti's tent. Lehonti's servant paced fretfully in front of the tent door's flap.
"I'm here to see Lehonti," Amalickiah announced.
"Yes, but, Lehonti is not well," the servant replied, wringing his hands with concern.
Amalickiah, the master of feigning surprise, concern, and a host of other emotions, wrinkled his brow and cried out, "Not well? What's the matter?"
"I don't know. He hasn't slept well in the night. He tossed and groaned continuously. He's burning with a fever as well," the servant responded, appreciating Amalickiah's apparent concern.
"It must be the jungle fever. It's not uncommon in this area. We should move him out of this place. This is an evil place. The land smells of death and woe," Amalickiah concluded.
"Yes, we should do whatever it takes."
"I'll give the command and order stretcher bearers to care for Lehonti on the journey."
"That would be very thoughtful. I'll see to it that Lehonti's things are packed."
"Do so quickly. I'll have the camp moved immediately."
Within the hour, the army marched onward. Row upon row of men with spears, swords, and clubs led the march. Toward the center area, protected by the army both before and behind, was the stretcher bearing Lehonti. Lehonti laid on it with an ashen, deathlike expression on his face, making the stretcher resemble a bier, more than a means of rest and rescue.
Suddenly, Lehonti curled up in obvious pain at a cramp in his stomach. He twisted and groaned. The stretcher-bearers could not help but notice his agony and shook their heads with pity and concern.
Later that evening, the army sat in groups around their various campfires. Amalickiah sat with his officers discussing the day's events. Lehonti's servant approached Amalickiah.
"Is our leader any better?" Amalickiah asked, looking up quickly.
The servant shook his head somberly.
"It's a genuine pity. Why should such a great man be forced to suffer so? You must take good care of the man," Amalickiah offered.
The servant nodded and left. Amalickiah watched to ensure he was out of earshot. Then he pulled a little bag out of his clothing and handed it to Ishmael.
"You make sure he gets the right amount two times a day. No more. No less. I don't want to raise suspicions by having it take full effect too soon," Amalickiah instructed him.
"Understood," Ishmael acknowledged, and tucked the bag away as he sauntered off.
He headed directly to Lehonti's tent area, where the servant sat fretfully. Ensuring he was not seen, Ishmael poured an amount of powder into a cup. He then poured some water into the cup and swirled it to mix the powder in with the liquid. With a turn of his head, the servant now noticed Ishmael's presence.
"He must be thirsty," Ishmael stated. "Give him another drink to tame his bitter thirst."
"Yes, you're right. Thank you," the servant gratefully responded.
The servant took the cup into Lehonti's tent. Ishmael smiled as the tent flap closed.
This scene was played out countless times over the succeeding days. Lehonti groaned and twisted on his bed. Amalickiah led the army on a continuing march. Lehonti struggled on the stretcher during the march. And, Ishmael made regular visits to the servant, always carrying his sachet of powder.
On one particular night, Ishmael asked, "Is he any better?"
"No, I fear he grows worse." The servant restated the oft-repeated response. He added, "I don't know how much more of this he can take."
"Death would seem to be an escape to rest," Ishmael surmised.
Without looking up, the servant woefully nodded, "Yes, I must agree."
For a final time, Ishmael offered, "Please, give him more to drink, to give him strength."
The servant nodded and took the cup Ishmael offered and entered the tent.
It was still early morning as Amalickiah quickly approached the tent. His gait had an eager spring to it, in spite of his efforts to conceal his anticipation. When he was nearly at Lehonti's tent, he paused for a moment, ensuring to remove any trace of hopefulness from his face and replaced it with a look of grim foreboding. He wakened the servant who had fallen asleep by the door.
"How is our leader?" Amalickiah reverently inquired.
The servant, startled from his uneasy sleep, stretched and acknowledged, "I don't know. I've never heard anyone have a worse night."
Amalickiah did not really wait for the answer as he entered the tent. Lehonti lay with one leg off the bed. His arms were twisted unnaturally. Blankets were strewn all over the bed and floor and wrapped around him from his tossing and turning. It was evident that he had suffered a painful and complete death. Amalickiah knelt in feigned mourning and despair. He let out an enormous, loud cry that startled the camp.
Lehonti's guards rushed forward and entered the tent. They saw Lehonti's corpse and offered to help Amalickiah to his feet. He refused their aid. They watched him mourn for a few moments, then Amalickiah gave the air of one gathering his wits. He lifted his head, while still kneeling, and held out his hand to one of the guards for help to his feet. Both guards helped him up.
"The world has lost a truly great man," Amalickiah said with resolution. "He would want us to carry on and so carry on we must. As his second I will now endeavor to fill the gap that his passing has created. Can I count on your support?"
Lehonti's men were impressed with his supposed compassion for the man that they did not realize he had murdered. They gathered to encourage him to go forward in spite of what they perceived to be his loss, by showing an increase of support.
"Amalickiah, you can count on us for total support," Lehonti's men replied.
"I appreciate that. Unquestioned unity and support is what the Lamanite nation needs at this critical time. We must now return to the king," Amalickiah responded with a veiled hint of warning.
©1999, 2003, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
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