Ishmael led his troops down the path to Ammonihah. He was atop one of the rare, but stately horses the Lamanite army had at their disposal. He sat erect and proudly displayed the airs of the king's favorite. The Lamanite soldiers marched in an unusually unified gait, for Lamanites at least. They were more accustomed to storming their foe with reckless abandon. The drills and tactics their new, pale officers had ingrained in them by the king's command in recent months had been grudgingly accepted, but followed nonetheless.
In spite of their march into battle, or perhaps because of it, they progressed with a degree of levity. They obviously saw this as an easy conquest. It was well known by all that Ammonihah was a pitifully weak city. "Give it a good kick and let the rest of it fall down!" one of the men joked.
As they marched, they continued to admire their new armor. Occasionally, they jostled each other to demonstrate its strength and protective qualities. Too often they had seen their Nephite foes benefit from such metal strength. Now, it was their turn to save their tender skin from the direct impact of sword, spear, or arrow. It was enough of an intrigue that the men longed to try it out in a real battle, especially when the odds were so much in their favor.
As the army rounded the final curve, the city showed itself like none they had ever seen before. Moroni's preparations took them completely off guard. They saw a massive trench surrounding the city with a towering wall of dirt protecting the once-broken wall.
The top of the wall was spiked with spears as well as the trench itself. Spaced along the top of the wall were several small towers for archers, and a few taller, larger ones for lookouts. The tower guards had already noted the Lamanites' approach and several Nephite archers could be made out readying themselves along the wall.
Ishmael and his army was abruptly taken aback by these preparations. The once-boastful, brash warriors dashed behind trees that lined, and ever encroached upon, the road. In their hurry, Ishmael's horse was startled, nearly causing its rider to lose his mount. Ammoron, the only other soldier on horseback, hustled over to Ishmael's side.
"My word! Have you ever seen such!?" Ammoron declared with utter astonishment.
"Never in all my life!" Ishmael found himself saying.
"What are we going to do? Amalickiah said this would be an easy quest!" Ammoron was concerned not only of their attack, but also of the wrath of their king should they come back anything less than victorious.
"Well, I'm certainly not going back without a victory! We'll need to attack," Ishmael declared.
"Attack?! How?! Where?! There's not a clear area to be seen. We'd be picked off like flies from a horse's back!" Ammoron felt compelled to point out.
"We're not turning back without a fight!" Ishmael vowed resolutely.
Ammoron turned his horse and faced his men. He waved them onward. The previously fearless Lamanite soldiers shrank back out of sight around the bend. Ammoron waved them forward again. Again, they refused. Ammoron rode over to them and shouted at them. Finally giving up, he returned to Ishmael.
"The men won't attack, sir," Ammoron announced.
"They'd attack if Amalickiah was here!" Ishmael said with disgust.
"Yes, that's true. But, he's not here - you are," Ammoron dug into his leader.
Ishmael was outraged by this attack on his leadership. "Curse their tanned hides and cowardly hearts! All right! We'll leave this place, but I swear to you by all that is holy, and by all that is unholy, we'll attack the next city or I'll lay into the men myself!"
"Where do you propose attacking?" Ammoron asked. He then added with more than just a hint of irony, "Are we just going to march around until some helpless city presents itself?"
"Watch your tongue, or you'll feel my wrath." Ishmael fingered his sword, but Ammoron did not flinch. "There's a city not far from here that is as equally unprotected as Ammonihah is - or was."
"You mean the city of Noah?" Ammoron demonstrated his memory of geography.
"None other," Ishmael stated flatly.
"I've been there. You're right. That should be a worthy target." Ammoron could not help being at least slightly impressed that Ishmael had managed to pull a potential victory from an otherwise disastrous first assault.
"Of course I'm right! Send out the order! We leave immediately!" Ishmael added with irritation and defensive impatience.
As the Lamanite army turned to leave, one particular pair of eyes took note. Teancum stood on the center of the city wall, above the city gate. His scouts had brought back warnings of Ishmael's march, long before their arrival. Teancum had a clear view of their arrival and was thus able to fully enjoy the shock their new fortifications provided against the Lamanites. Although he could only guess at the conversation between Ammoron and Ishmael, it was not difficult to extrapolate its content.
Upon the retreat of their enemy, Teancum smiled at the victory and raised his sword high over his head in triumph. His fellow Nephites, posted strategically on the wall, did the same and cheered. They had witnessed their first victory without raising a hand in combat. Moroni's strategy was so far proving quite wise. The Lamanites withdrew too quickly to be able to hear their forfeited prey's cheers.
They embarked on a fairly long march. By midday, Ishmael and his army finally rounded a bend and saw the city of Noah. To their utter dismay, it was protected in a similar fashion as Ammonihah was, only even more so. The men were visibly distressed. A man walked the city wall purposely exposing his presence. Although he was high above, the Lamanites and their leaders recognized him immediately from their earlier encounter by the river Sidon.
"It's Lehi!" one marching Lamanite soldier perceived.
"Not the same Lehi who fought by Moroni's side!" another exclaimed.
"There's no hope!" a third declared with palpable dejection and dismay.
The soldiers stopped their march with their eyes fixed with fear on the city, its wall, and its commander. Ammoron's eyes were no exception.
"What are you men looking at?! This is our target!" Ishmael sternly declared. "Ammoron, send your men left, I'll take mine right."
Ammoron was shaken out of his fearful trance enough to stammer a meager reply, "But? -"
"Do it now, or die this instant!" Ishmael threatened, swinging his horse around directly between Ammoron and the city. He faced Ammoron, brandishing his sword as evidence that this was not an idle threat.
Ammoron nodded attempting to conceal his reluctant submission, and beckoned to his men. "Forward men! In the name of your mighty nation, attack!"
Ammoron kicked his horse into action charging forward with his sword raised. His men, trained to do battle, ignored their fears and their instincts and charged the spiked wall. The Lamanite archers vainly attempted to send their arrows up against the foe behind the wall. The top of the wall had many layered, wooden hatches with gaps between them.
The Nephites could easily peer between them and even hurl objects down below. But, the Lamanites on the plain far below had a slim chance at best of targeting people between the narrow openings. Of the many arrows sent skyward, none hit their mark.
While the flurry of arrows soared overhead, the foot soldiers attempted to charge the city intent on scaling the massive wall. Their first obstacle was a series of sharp sticks the length of spears, set at alternating 45-degree angles all along the lip of the deep trench that surrounded the city. Not only did these block clear passage into the trench, but also another series of these sticks were placed within the heart of the trench itself. The first few men who managed to make it passed the sharp sticks lost their footing on the loose earth and tumbled into the freshly dug trench. These hapless souls were easy targets for the Nephites' stones and arrows from directly above.
In their frantic haste to charge, the second wave failed to notice that men were entering the trench, but not managing to scale the wall on its far side. They pushed their way past the blockade, only to also tumble into the trench. They tangled themselves with their dead and dying comrades who preceded them into the deathly pit while being pummeled from above by a seemingly endless barrage of stones and arrows from the Nephites. Few made it more than a matter of yards up the wall's face before becoming extinct targets.
A very few soldiers managed to push their way back out of the trench, between the wooden spears that barred passage across the ditch. Others who had been charging forward, finally saw their bloody comrades' retreat and stopped in their tracks unsure of what to do or which direction to run. Ishmael saw the men floundering. He became insanely enraged at the men's lack of success.
His hatred toward Moroni increased in equal proportion to his growing fear that the campaign was doomed to failure. He was determined to not let his first campaign be turned into a total fiasco. He rode forward on his horse to encourage his men, shouting blind orders.
"Onward men! Forward! You lousy, cowardly heathen! Attack now or by God I'll -" Ishmael's curse was cut off in mid-word as an archer's arrow pierced him through the neck.
He staggered on horseback, still clinging onto his sword. As his body tensed up at the impact, he inadvertently pulled on the reigns, causing the horse to slowly circle and stutter step in place. He attempted to raise his sword triumphantly, but failed as his life ebbed from his now-slumping body. As he slowly fell forward onto his horse's main, he turned his head upward toward the city he had hoped to defeat.
His eyes caught those of Lehi's who stood boldly and dignified atop the wall that Moroni had instructed him to build to protect a god-faring people which he, Ishmael, had abandoned and tried to enslave for his own, personal honor and glory. The irony escaped him as his last breath of life dissipated and he fell from his horse into an undignified heap upon the unrelenting ground.
With the loss of their leader, even a poor one at that, the Lamanites' defeat was complete. Some looked to Ammoron for guidance. He sat on his horse looking at Ishmael. His mouth slowly opened and closed repeatedly, but no words were uttered. The Lamanites began to flee. One bumped into his horse and shook Ammoron from his stupor. He looked at the city, the dead, the failing archers, and the fleeing men. He shook his head as if to clear it and sat up tall on his steed. He attempted to take command of the retreat. He saw the trumpeter fleeing.
"Trumpeter, sound the alarm and head for those trees!" he commanded.
Ammoron motioned to the nearest trees. The trumpeter sounded the call on a brass, curved horn of ancient design. Those Lamanites still capable of movement retreated quickly to safety. Some limped, badly wounded and fearful of being pummeled by Nephite arrows during their retreat. At the first sign of retreat, however, all Nephite arrows ceased, allowing their foe to abandon the battle without further injury. Ammoron urged his horse on and was among the first to disappear into the jungles. The Nephites cheered boisterously and congratulated each other.
~~~ - ~~~
In a quiet part of the kingdom, a guard entered the Lamanite throne room and approached Amalickiah, who sat arrogantly on his throne. Amalickiah had military scrolls laid out on a table nearby. They contained maps identifying the locations of Nephite cities. One map was unrolled on his lap. He had been reviewing this particular map as he schemed the next phase of his attack on the Nephites. He ignored the guard's entrance until the guard knelt before him on one knee with head bowed.
"Your majesty, I bear news," the guard reported, awaiting his majesty's reply.
Amalickiah did not look up from his maps and replied flippantly, "And what news do you bear?"
"The tower watch guard has seen that your army is returning," the guard announced.
Amalickiah looked up quickly and nearly stood with excitement. He cleared his lap in one swift swipe of his hand and threw the map aside.
"They return?! So soon?! Splendid! Wonderful! This is going to be even easier than I thought. Tell General Ishmael to report to me as soon as they're within the city walls," Amalickiah replied.
"Yes, your majesty!" the Guard stood, bowed, then turned and left.
Amalickiah rubbed his hands together in excitement and gloated. "Ah, Moroni, where is your mighty army now? You thought you could stop me so easily. We'll see who cuts down whom very soon now."
Amalickiah was still pacing before his throne, impatient to hear the news of his victory and move on to phase two, as another guard entered with Ammoron close behind.
"Your majesty -" the guard began.
Amalickiah turned and saw the two. He cut off the guard and impatiently demanded, "Where's Ishmael?! I ordered Ishmael to come here directly!"
"Your majesty -" the guard attempted to continue.
Ammoron, whose fear of his brother had turned to disgust on the long, lonely trek home from defeat, interrupted. "He's dead!"
"Dead? Dead?! What do you mean he's dead? He can't be dead!" Amalickiah denied.
"Yes, dear brother, he's dead!" Ammoron's anger was now so thick that it was almost a satisfaction for him to contradict his brother's arrogance.
"How can this be? You had the finest armor and shields this army has ever seen!" Amalickiah questioned.
"Shields and helmets are small protection from rocks and arrows when you're stuck in a trench filled with the dead and dying," Ammoron added flatly.
"What?! What nonsense is this?" Amalickiah demanded.
"This 'nonsense' is the reality of warfare. You thought you could walk in and take Moroni by surprise. Well, Moroni had a few surprises for you, dear king," Ammoron announced.
"What has he done? Where's Ishmael?" Amalickiah repeated.
"I told you. He's dead. Fallen by an archer's arrow while leading a hopeless cause. Moroni has fortified his cities in ways you've never even dreamed!"
"'Cities' what do you mean 'cities?' Didn't you attack Ammonihah?" Amalickiah questioned, suffering his anger to merge into confusion.
"We tried to, but when we got to it, we saw that Moroni had dug a trench around the whole city and built a massive wall with sticks and staves guarding it. It's impregnable. When the men saw it, they refused to fight," Ammoron explained.
"The cowardly fools! If I had been there, they would have fought!" Amalickiah said, rekindling the anger in his eyes.
"And they would have died! And you along with them!" Ammoron countered.
"Watch your tongue, brother, I'm in an ill mood!" Amalickiah warned, "So, if the men didn't fight what became of Ishmael?"
"We left Ammonihah and marched to the city of Noah."
"Yes, that's a good, weak spot. I would have gone there, too."
"When we got there, we found it was even stronger than Ammonihah, and Captain Lehi himself was on the city wall guarding as if he expected us."
"Lehi?!" Amalickiah was clearly surprised.
"Yes. The men again refused to fight, but Ishmael told them to fight or die by his hand."
"I knew he'd make a brave and cunning leader," Amalickiah lamented.
"And a dead one. He died futilely leading his men to their deaths."
"Bravery is never futile. At least he took a great deal of Nephites with him," attempting to find a noble point of victory in this account.
"I beg to differ," Ammoron again contradicted.
"I didn't see a single Nephite wounded, let alone killed. While at least half of our men were lost." Ammoron attempted to dispel any hint of victory.
"What?! Not one?!"
"They were safe atop their high wall. None of our archers could take a true aim. None of our men could climb more than a few paces before being dropped by arrows or rocks. Moroni's wisdom has outdone us!" Ammoron could not see even a hint of a moral victory in the slaughter he helped lead his men into and intended to drive that point home to his blindly arrogant superior.
Amalickiah, whose rage had grown throughout this entire discourse, was now furious beyond words and screamed so loudly it was heard throughout the long halls of the entire stone building. Children playing in the street outside looked up upon hearing the noise, horses reared up, and guards looked clearly disturbed.
"I swear to you, dear brother, that I will drink Moroni's blood! He and his men will feel my wrath, and then we'll see whose wisdom prevails!" Amalickiah vowed.
©1999, 2003, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
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