The Prophet's Wife
Part I: Remembering
Setting: In the Nephite city of Lehi-Nephi, somewhere in Central America, aprox. 145 BC.
Zarah set down the handstone, stretched and began gently kneading her lower back with her hands. She ached from the grinding of the boiled maize, but she could not stop for long. She still needed to form the cakes and cook them on the pottery griddle that was already heating with the day's coals. She looked out the window of the earth and thatch hut. The sun was about to set and her husband, Abinadi, would soon be home.
With a sigh she turned back to the matate to finish the grinding. Her body had nearly adapted to her labors here, she mused, before she had the baby. Now that she carried the infant around all day, swaddled tightly to her breast with a woven cloth, the strain on her back was doubled. Luckily the baby was sleeping on the pallet now and she was able to finish the grinding in peace.
She had known from the beginning that life with Abinadi would not be easy. She remember when she first saw him, over two years ago, in the city of Lehi-Nephi, young and handsome, preaching on the steps of the temple. The sight of his short dark hair and shaven face, his dark eyes that seemed so sharp and alive, so different then other men she associated with, took her breath away. She immediately asked about him. Her mother whispered that he was Abinadi, the son of Aaron. Zarah knew that Aaron had been one of King Zeniff's high priests, an influential man, until Zeniff died. The new king, Zeniff's son, Noah, did not walk in the way of his father. He put Aaron and all of his father's priests out of their offices and replaced them with new men and new ideas. Zarah's mother warned her that anyone to spoke out against the king was dangerous. They put their heads down and keep walking by.
When Zarah next saw Abinadi, he was preaching in the marketplace and she was alone buying wool for the week's weaving. It would be no harm, she reasoned, to stop at the edge of the crowd to listen, just for a moment. She clutched her basket and stood at the back where she would not be seen. She could barely hear his voice rising above the bustling street.
"I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in the flesh he shall be called the Son of God," Abinadi preached.
A man near the front shouted out, "How can you say these things? There is no way that you can know the future!"
The crowd rumbled in agreement.
"This talk of a Messiah is nonsense. Why do you come here and tire us with your lies?" another cried out.
The son of Aaron's eyes widened and he gestured his arm out over the congregation. "Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath He commanded me, saying; Go forth, and say unto this people - Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger."
The people around Zarah began to shout all at once and a blackened banana hit Abinadi in the chest. Fearing the crowed, Zarah retreated from the group and walked swiftly to another part of the market to continue her shopping. She could see why her mother warned her that these teachings were dangerous. They certainly angered the people. And yet, there was something about the things he said that seemed so familiar somehow.
That night Zarah pondered the words of the young preacher. She knew that many things had changed in the years since King Noah had come to power; many of the old ways were done away. Most of the people welcomed the changes, the building of the new temples, the increase in vineyards and wine production, the new freedoms, especially for women, in dress and behavior. Her father, the captain of stone cutters, had prospered under the reign of King Noah. His work was in demand and his family had benefited from their new status.
However, Zarah knew there was truth in what Abinadi had said about people. She had seen much of their wickedness with her own eyes. But the priests of Noah taught that there was no harm in these things. They taught that there was no sin, only freedom. Somehow their words seemed hollow to Zarah now.
As she thought on all these things, the words of her grandmother, long dead, echoed in her mind. She had lulled Zarah to sleep many nights with the reading of the sacred scrolls, whispering of the coming of a Messiah; a Messiah that would save his people from death and sin. Zarah's heart burned within her, and she knew that what Abinadi had preached in the marketplace was true. But just because he spoke truth didn't make him a messenger from God, did it? Did God truly speak to Abinadi? Zarah just had to know.
The next day she sought him out. It was not tradition for a young lady to make such an acquaintance with a strange young man, but this was only seeking answers to some questions, she told herself, and so the old customs did not apply. She found him again near the temple, talking to a small group of people under the shade of a tall silk tree. She boldly stepped forward and asked if she could join in the conversation. She met eyes with Abinadi, and a smile of acceptance graced his face.
"All are welcome to hear the word of God," he said gesturing for her to sit with them.
All the places in the shade were taken but one right next to Abinadi. Zarah nervously kneeled down in the grass beside him.
A man, a merchant, Zarah guessed from the quality of his cloths, began to speak. "But, Abinadi," the man continued as if he had not been interrupted, "It is plainly taught in the temple that salvation comes through the Law of Moses."
Abinadi shook his head and answered, "Yes, that is what the priests teach, and it is expedient to keep the law of Moses as yet, but salvation doesn't come through the ordinances of the law. Can't you see? All these things are types of things to come."
"I see clearly," the merchant answered, "We are given a law of performances and ordinances, a law that we observe strictly from day to day."
"Yes," Abinadi agreed, "but these ordinances are only to keep us in remembrance of God and our duty towards him. Salvation does not come through the performances themselves, it comes through the atonement of the Messiah."
"I know nothing of this Messiah," the merchant answered.
Zarah heard her grandmother's words in her mind and before she could censer her enthusiasm she spoke out, "Do you not remember the prophet Isaiah said 'he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.'"
Embarrassed that she had spoken so boldly and worried that she had offended Abinadi, Zarah looked up to him nervously. The look on his face wasn't anger, but astonishment at first, quickly turning into a warm smile.
"The young lady is exactly right," Abinadi continued. "It says here in the holy text…" and he went on with his teachings.
Zarah dared not say anything more during the remainder of the meeting. But as the conversation stretched on into the afternoon there was more to Abinadi's frequent glances then just discussing points of salvation. And there was more in her placing her hand close to his than her interest in the holy texts.
"May I call on you?" he asked, when the teaching was through, and all stood to part ways.
Zarah ducked her head. "I am sorry, son of Aaron, but my parents would not approve."
"It is me who should apologize, lady, for being so rash." He bowed and said, "My name is Abinadi. And you are?"
"Zarah, daughter of Corom," she supplied.
"A fine house," Abinadi said. "I can understand why a visit from me would not be welcome." Zarah blushed and turned away. He quickly took a few steps to stand in front so she would not leave.
"I'm sorry again if I have offended, it was not my intention," he said in a rush. "I was just surprised at your knowledge of the holy writings. I did not expect…" he let the words trail off.
"My grandmother read to me from the scrolls as a child," Zarah explained. "And yesterday, as I heard you speaking in the market, the remembrance warmed my heart." She immediately knew she had said too much, such a personal revelation, to this young stranger.
"I would love to talk to you more about this, if you are willing," Abinadi asked, his tone full of eagerness.
Zarah looked up into his eyes and saw again that warm life that had so drawn her in when she first saw him in the marketplace. In an instant she knew, that though her parents would be angry, she could not deny him. "The day after Sabbath. I will meet you under this tree for noon meal," she offered.
A smile lit his face. "Until then, Zarah, daughter of Corom," and he bowed again.
It would be the first of many meetings. Usually during the heat of the day when Zarah's mother napped and Zarah could take a break from her weaving. Their conversations together filled her in so many ways. The things he taught her enlightened her mind and brought peace to her heart. And just being with him was intoxicating and frightening all at the same time. She loved to watch him preach to the people on the streets or on the steps to the temple. He taught with such passion; it was like his whole face would be aglow with his words. While she felt guilty for deceiving her parents, neither her heart nor mind would let her stay away.
Nearly two moon cycles passed before Zarah and Abinadi's meetings were discovered. It all began when her father had come home from his work on the new palace addition. He was tired and covered with dust when he asked Zarah's mother and house staff to leave them, for he had something to discuss with his daughter alone. She had been spotted by one of his workman, he said to her with a tone of accusation, sitting with the son of Aaron and his zealot followers. Zarah did not deny it, her fear of offending God was greater than her fear of her father. In Corom's anger, he forbade her from ever seeing Abinadi or any of his friends again. When she refused, he struck her. He had never hit her before and she lay on the floor in front of him both afraid and amazed. Abinadi was a marked man, her father warned; he had angered King Noah and would not be very much longer on this earth. Unless she wanted to die a traitor's death as well, she would never see Abinadi again.
Zarah lay on her pallet that night trembling but determined. She would go to Abinadi at first light and warn him about the threat against his life. She eventually fell into a fitful sleep.
She woke in the night to the soft sound of her name. She lay awake listening to see if it was just a dream. When she heard her name spoken again she recognized the voice and her heart leapt. She dressed quickly and in the dark. Quietly stepping over the sleeping forms of her family, she stole out into the night.
"Abinadi," she whispered when she saw his dark cloaked figure, "I must warn you…"
His hand came up and covered her mouth. She could feel the roughness of his fingers against her lips. Abinadi uncovered his head, and his face became awash in moonlight. He looked down at her with intensity in his expression that she had never seen. And before Zarah knew what was happening, Abinadi pulled her into his arms and gently kissed her.
She stepped back from him, dazed. And then shaking sleep from her slowed senses she said "Abinadi, the king…"
"Shh… I know. Zarah, I know," Abinadi said. "I have just this evening, by some miracle, escaped the king's guards."
Zarah gasped, "Then they do seek your life?"
Abinadi nodded. "Yes, I am yet hunted at this time. I must flee Lehi-Nephi before day breaks."
"Tonight?" Zarah exclaimed, "But how is that possible? Where will you go?"
"My father knows of a place, up in the mountains. It is isolated, and the people there are peaceful."
As she thought of his leaving, Zarah's heart ripped inside of her. "Abinadi," she said gripping the front of his cloak. "I don't want you to go."
He turned her face up toward his, and cradled her cheeks in his hands. "That is why I have come, to ask your father for your hand in marriage. Now – tonight."
She bit her lip and tears filled her eyes. "Do not ask, Abinadi, he will never give his permission." Abinadi bowed his head. "But I will give my permission," she quickly added. Her heart beat wildly in her chest but there was no hesitation. "I will go with you into the mountains."
"Zarah, dear Zarah." He kissed her forehead and then each eye. "The journey will be difficult," he murmured. "We will have nothing of the wealth that you are accustomed to."
"I know," she murmured, her eyes shining at him.
"And still, you will have me?"
"Yes" she whispered fiercely. She had never wanted anything more.
Abinadi smiled, and then lifted her off her feet, twirling her in the air. "You have just made the darkest of all nights turn into the brightest day. We will go to my father to be married, and then we must flee. Daybreak is not far away."
I wrote this story when I first requested that add the Book of Mormon as a category. It took three years, but I'm glad it has finally happened and I can post my story here.