Thursday, January 15, 2009

Prologue I

The Old Man and the Cave

The old man climbed slowly up the ridge. He stopped occasionally to rest and catch his breath. In his younger years he could have run up this slope. But age had robbed him of his vitality and he now operated more on will power than physical strength. There was no defined trail, but enough openings and clearings in the semi-tropical vegetation that he could make his way without breaking trail. Besides he had been over this ground several times already in the past week.

As he neared the crest of the ridge, he turned right and dropped down into the head of a deep ravine. It was thickly vegetated and strewn with large boulders of ragged limestone. He went right to the small opening of the cave he had discovered the past week. It had been hard to find, but his diligent searching had paid off. There were several other caves in the area, but they were not suitable for his purpose. Using a hardwood hoe he had brought with him, he cleared away some of the earth and rocks which had narrowed the opening. When the entrance was sufficiently large that he could stoop over and walk in, he began clearing out the fallen rock and debris that littered the floor of the cave. He carefully deposited all this material in the undergrowth outside where it would not be noticed

After several hours work he had the floor leveled. He surveyed the results and absent-mindedly nodded his approval. It would do. Fortunately this cave was dry. Some of the others in the area were wet with dripping water, or even flowed with spring water. He needed a dry cave in which to store his treasure. The main chamber was about the size of his small hut at the base of the mountain. Not too big, but large enough to house the records.

Next he went outside and gathered a number of flat, regular stones and stacked them by the side of the entrance. He would use these to wall up the opening when he was finished. As he was gathering the stone, he noticed a large flat stone and tipped it over and over again until he had it at the entrance. He thought it might make a good tabletop inside the cave. He might need a work surface to sort and organize the records.

It was still early afternoon as he descended the ridge in the full sun. He would be glad to quench his thirst at the spring near his home. He could now see the scattered villages of his people on the slopes below. They had lived in tents in the beginning, but as soon as possible built thatched huts along the many streams that ran down the flanks of the mountain. They were not elaborate structures. Built on raised earthen platforms, they were constructed of light vertical pole walls covered by a thatched roof. Some of the better ones might even have a smoothed clay floor. And those who wanted special comfort had even fired their clay floors before construction to make a hard ceramic-like surface.

The little villages filled the valley almost to the lakeshore and the smoke from the cooking fires made wispy little snake trails up into the sky. There were now more than two hundred thousand people dwelling there. They had been gathering for two years, and most of their people had joined them in this fateful spot. There they hoped to defend themselves against their enemies.

The leaders had arranged a four-year truce during which time they might gather all the people and prepare again for battle. They had hopes of defeating their enemies once and for all in this place. After all it provided a strategic advantage and could be easily defended. There was the lake and river to the north, the low range of hills to the south, and beyond the hills another large river. To the west was a large range of mountains, and to the east the lone mountain that they now called Cumorah, but in earlier times had been named Ramah. The valley was a triangle between the lake, the hills, and Cumorah. A low ridge divided the west valley from a northern one that lay north of Cumorah bordering the lake and river. The eastern edge of Cumorah dropped steeply into the east sea.

By stationing troops at strategic points the leaders felt that they could defend this area and hopefully repel their enemies and preserve their way of life. It was a bold but desperate plan, but they didn’t have many other options. It was probably their last hope. Still many were uneasy and had an uncomfortable foreboding. After all this was the very area where the ancients had been destroyed. Didn’t the histories even relate that terrible event? Some even said the entire area was under a curse. Perhaps this explained why such a pleasant land was not populated already. No wonder many were uneasy and even superstitious about being there, but what other choice did they have.

But at present things were peaceful and they were living in a paradisiacal setting. The lake and river abounded in fish, and there was abundant game to be had for the taking. The soil was rich and bore bounteous crops. The climate was ideal and they seemed to have all that they could want. Still, in the midst of this deceptively peaceful setting, they were uneasy. It was as if the curse of God was upon them. There was a foreboding as if the executioner’s sword was hanging over their heads.

The old man reached his home before sundown. He was staying with his son and his family. Ever since his wife had been killed in one of the earlier battles, he had lived with them. It was the custom. As he entered the home, the son greeted him.

“How did it go at the cave?”

“It’s ready. I cleaned it out and got it ready to seal. I even found a table we can use. I think we can start transferring the records tomorrow”.

“How do you think we should do it?”

“We must be very careful. I don’t want more than 3 or 4 of our trusted friends to know about it. So many have defected to the enemy, and we can’t trust most of the people. Remember, our enemies have vowed to destroy our records along with us. We can’t let that happen even if it means our lives. The records have to survive. God has promised us that they will, and if we rely on him they will be safe.”

“So what do you propose?”

“Well, I think we should transfer the records at night. You and I, and a few of our trusted friends can carry them up the mountain to the cave during the full moon. Some of our trusted guards can watch over them during the day. There is a lot to move, but I think we can do it in four or five days.”

“All right, let’s start tomorrow.”

They didn’t have any interference. The old man was the chief captain and had the authority to quarantine areas, which he did in this case. Guards were posted to keep people away from the records hut that had been one of the first they had built when they arrived in the valley. It had been purposely situated at the upper edge of the settlements and had always been heavily guarded. So now, with the mountainside securely posted, no one really suspected what was going on. The old man and his trusted friends would replace some of the upper guards at night and then transfer the records one by one. As they were books composed of gold, or gold alloy, they were very heavy, and it was strenuous labor to carry them up the mountain. In the case of the old man, he mainly supervised, or carried some of the lighter records.

At first they just stacked the golden books, piling them up along the walls of the cave. During the day they would rest and one of their number would stay at the cave to guard against any possible intruders. When they had moved about half the records, the old man began organizing them into stacks. He was very familiar with them having spent years studying them and making an abridgment of his people’s thousand year history. He loved these treasures. They were the fruit, possibly the only remaining good fruit, of his ancient culture. They had been preserved for a holy purpose–to convey their spiritual heritage to a future generation of gentiles–in the hope that in turn those blessed gentiles would pass on this knowledge to the descendants of their enemies. It took a great deal of faith in the foreknowledge of God to work for the fulfilling of this prophecy, especially when these very enemies burned with hatred towards them, and were obsessed with the desire to annihilate them.

The old man did have such faith, but not many of the people did anymore. They had rejected all the teachings of the sacred books. The old man had tried to rekindle their faith, but few would listen to him. He often wondered why they continued to look to him for political leadership when they had rejected him as a prophet. Several times he had even refused to lead them when he thought their cause was unrighteous, but they always continued to follow him as often as he consented to lead them. He even wondered why they continued on in this ethnic struggle. After all, they had degenerated to the level of their enemies and were spiritually indistinguishable. Why didn’t they just defect and merge with the enemy as so many others had done? All they had to do was renounce their religion that they didn’t believe in anyway. It was probably just their stupid, stubborn pride. They would not surrender that to the enemy.

The transfer took them a little longer than they had planned, but after a week all the records had been moved. They put stones in the record storage building and covered them with blankets, just like the records had been before, and continued to have guards posted there so no one knew they were gone.

The old man sorted all the records and prepared them for burial. It was an impressive sight.

There were golden books stacked along the walls all around the cavern. They were even under the makeshift table. When he was finished he put the treasured Sword of Laban on the table. He would have liked to use it in the coming battle, but it wasn’t worth the risk of losing it. After a last look around the cave, and with a profound sense of relief, he and his son began to seal up the entrance.

First they stacked the flat stones the old man had prepared for this purpose until the entrance was closed. Then they stacked a layer of adobes they had prepared earlier in front of the stacked stones. At this point the old man and his son knelt and the old man offered a prayer. He invoked the power of heaven to protect the buried records that no unhallowed hand might have power to harm or destroy them. He prayed that they might remain bright and un-corroded, and that at some future date they might come forth and bear witness of their history and of God’s plan for all men.

Then they covered the entire entrance with earth and rocks, making it look as natural as possible. Finally, they piled some dry brush on top of the earth cover and then started the whole mountainside on fire. This burned a few acres of grass and low brush in the area and in the process completely concealed the recent work that had been done.

As they started down the mountain, the old man retrieved a small bundle of records and asked his son to carry them for him.

“Why didn’t you bury these records with the rest?”

“These I am going to entrust to your care,” replied the old man. “One of them is the abridgement that I have made of the records of our people. There are a few blank pages that you can use to start your own history. But remember, this book is more precious than life itself. You must guard and protect it with all your strength and being. Trust in God and he will aid you in doing so.”

“The other record is the history of the ancient Jaredites–the book of the prophet Ether. I have not had the opportunity to translate and abridge those plates, so it will now be your responsibility to do so. I have also included the seer stone and the breastplate. You will need these in order to translate Ether’s book. When you have finished with this work, it is my impression that you are to conceal them wherever the Lord directs you to. If we survive our next battle with the enemy, I will be around to help you. But if not, you will be on your own. I know that you are worthy of this responsibility and the Lord has told me that you are capable of doing so.”

“Father, you are talking as if you are going to die. It is not time for that. We still have a good chance of winning the battle.”

“I am not saying I am going to die. I am just preparing you in case I do. Beside I am nearing the end of my mortal journey, and whether I die in battle or by natural means, the responsibility will pass to you, so you need to be ready.”

That night the old man slept better than he had in a very long time.