Hela lifted the large basket of produce to his head and took a deep breath, hoping the air would fill him with courage. It didn’t. It wasn’t so much that he feared the task before him as that he hated it. He just didn’t want to take the vegetables to sell in the city.
Tilling the soil and watching the rich black earth soften and crumble under the hoe always filled Hela’s heart with gladness. And watching the crops begin to send up green messages of life was exciting. Hela even enjoyed digging out the weeds as the plants grew.
But after watering and weeding and growing, the vegetables must be taken to market. That task had once been Hela’s favorite, but now he could barely force himself to go.
For more than five years—ever since Samuel the Lamanite prophet had stood on the city wall and called the people to repentance—the persecution had gotten worse. Each month, each week, each day, the nonbelievers became bolder in tormenting the people who believed that Christ would come.
Everyone at the marketplace knew that Hela, who bore the name of his father, was a follower of Nephi the prophet. And they knew that Hela’s father taught people about Christ’s coming. So they spat on Hela and swore at him. Sometimes they even beat him when he went to the marketplace. But Hela said nothing about his tormentors because he knew his family needed the money from the sale of the vegetables. He also knew that his father would probably take the produce to market himself to protect his son, and then his father would not be able to teach the gospel.
“Are you leaving for the market now, my son?” Hela’s mother asked.
“Yes,” Hela said, taking one more deep breath.
“Such a son!” his mother said, clapping her hands together. “Only twelve years old and doing the work of three men!”
Hela smiled. His mother always exaggerated about him. “Now, Mother,” he protested.
“Well, maybe only the work of two men. But still, such a son!” The twinkle in her eyes danced happily as she clapped Hela’s cheeks between her hands and kissed his forehead, almost causing the basket to tumble from his head. Hela blushed and hurried along the dusty road, expertly balancing the large basket without ever touching it with his hands.
As the sun began peeking through the trees in the east, the road became crowded with people and animals on their way to market. Hela moved swiftly through the noise and commotion until he neared the city wall. “Zarahemla,” he whispered to himself, “what will I find within your gates today?” Saying a silent prayer, he passed through the city gate.
By now the noise was almost deafening—people calling, shouting, bartering; animals bleating, cackling, barking. Swiftly he moved in and out of the crowd, balancing the basket with one hand now.
“He is here again!”
Hela heard the coarse grating voice of Laman and thought, Today will be no different from the others.
“We thought perhaps you would be joining your father in frivolous pursuits and daydreams,” the man taunted him. “But if a father must play away his time, a son must do the work. Is that not so, my friends?” Laman jeered, and the other men laughed loudly.
As Hela turned to go, someone threw a vegetable that hit him just above the shoulder blade. He didn’t look back or acknowledge that he had been struck, but from the smell he knew that the vegetable was rotten. Quickly finding a place against the wall, Hela set his basket down. He hoped the produce would sell fast so that he could go home soon.
“If it isn’t Hela, the dreamer!” Hela looked up to see Ammah, Laman’s son, a boy his own age, standing with both hands on his hips. “What is a dreamer doing in the marketplace? Can’t dreamers eat their dreams?” Ammah laughed as if this was the greatest of all jokes. “Are you still waiting for the Christ to come?”
Hela ignored the boy, but soon others gathered. Once when they were small, they had all been friends and had played in the marketplace while their fathers sold their wares. Hela felt the familiar stab of sorrow as the derision continued.
“If the Christ were coming, He would have been here by now!” Ammah shouted. “It is past the five years Samuel predicted.” Ammah laughed loudly, and the other boys joined him. “Yes, and why would He go to Jerusalem and not come here? Are we not a better people?”
Hela knew the boys were only repeating the things they had heard their fathers say, but he felt so helpless. What will happen to these boys, who used to be my friends, when the Christ comes? he wondered.
After a while the boys grew tired of their reviling, and they left. The produce finally sold, and with a sigh of relief, Hela picked up his basket and hurried away.
As he neared his adobe home, he was greeted by the bleating of the goat and the clucking of the chickens. Hela smiled. How nice they sounded, how peaceful after all he had heard in the marketplace. Suddenly he saw his father’s donkey tethered to the fence. Dropping his basket, he hurried to the house.
“Is something wrong?” Hela cried out as he threw open the door. Instead of finding his father hurt and his mother crying, Hela saw his parents sitting quietly at the table, their faces filled with a peace and joy that he had not seen for a long, long time. Confused, he shut the door and waited for them to explain.
“Come in, my son,” his father said quietly. “How did the marketplace fare today?”
“Fine, Father,” Hela answered.
“I cannot believe that,” Hela’s father said, adding with a heartwarming smile, “You are a good son, Hela. I know of the things that are said and done at the marketplace, and I know that you have suffered for me and for the gospel.”
Hela did not reply. All the while he had been keeping his secret, it had never occurred to Hela that his father must know.
“My son, I appreciate all you have done. If it had not been for you, I would not have been able to do my work.”
“Please, Father,” Hela said carefully, not wanting to interrupt but unable to contain his curiosity any longer. “Why are you home so early?” Hela knew from the look on his parents’ faces that nothing was wrong, but he wanted to know what had happened.
“Nothing is wrong. As a matter of fact, something is very right.”
“What is it?” Hela asked.
“Come, sit here,” his mother invited.
As Hela started for the chair, a great commotion sounded from the road. Hela and his parents ran to the window.
“Hela! Hela, the dreamer!” shouted a deep voice from a large mob of people. “We want Hela, the dreamer, the teacher of dreams and fables.”
“False dreams and lies!” someone else shouted.
Quickly Hela’s mother bolted the door while his father fastened the shutters over the windows.
The noise from the crowd became so loud that Hela could no longer make out what anyone was saying. But he could feel and hear the anger in their voices. His heart pounded, and his knees felt weak.
Slowly his father opened a little door in one of the shutters, then waited for the noise to die down. When it was quieter, he called out, “What is it you want?”
“We want you, dream teacher.”
“And what do you want with me?”
“We have decided that we have had enough of your tales and your lies. The five years Samuel spoke of are long past. We will give you only three days more. If the signs you teach of do not come to pass by then, we are going to rid ourselves of your company.”
Hela shuddered. He had felt their hatred; he had even felt the sting of a whip or a hand across his back, but he had not realized that the people hated so much that they would kill.
“If it is me you want, take me now. There is no need to harm my family,” Hela heard his father answer.
“No!” Hela whispered through clenched teeth.
Hela’s mother put her arms around him. “Do not be frightened, my son,” she whispered. “God will protect us.”
“It is not just you we want,” a man in the mob was yelling. “We want all believers in such lies. In three days Nephi will have no followers. We will be free of your false prophecies and teachings. We will kill all of you and put an end to this foolishness.”
“It is not foolishness. The Savior will come,” Hela’s father called back.
“For your sakes He had better!” The man laughed, and the crowd joined in.
Suddenly someone threw a rock against the house. The heated mob seemed to pulse with renewed anger as they all began throwing rocks and cursing. The small house trembled and echoed from the pelting, and the awful shouting seemed like a tremendous storm.
Hela covered his ears and hid his face against his mother’s shoulder. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of his father’s face. Despite all that was happening, the expression of peace and love on his father’s face was unchanged.
Suddenly the people began banging the walls of the house with cudgels. “Oh, Father!” Hela cried. “What more can happen?”
Hela’s father patted his son’s hand and said something to him, but for all the banging, Hela could not make out the words. Then he heard a great crashing, ripping sound over the din of the mob as the door buckled and fell onto the floor.
Framed in the broken doorway was Laman. “You would not come out to us, so we came in to you!”
(To be concluded.)