Limni struggled against the churning water, trying frantically to stay on top. He was a strong swimmer, but the rapids were too swift for him to make much headway. He had fallen into the river while trying to spear a fish. Now the current was carrying him swiftly downstream, and he was exhausted. His shoulder crashed into the edge of a boulder, and he gasped in pain, swallowing more water. He was desperately afraid that he was drowning. Heavenly Father, he cried in his mind, please help me.
As he surfaced once more, he heard a shout. Ahead of him, where the river made a wide turn, a boy was holding a long branch from a dead tree out into the river. Limni stroked frantically toward the branch. Lunging, he grasped the end of it and was pulled safely to the bank. It was the wrong bank, but he was alive and grateful.
He was also a little frightened because his rescuer had the dark skin of a Lamanite. “Thank you, my brother,” Limni said when he could talk.
“Why do you call me ‘brother,’ Nephite boy? I am not your brother. I am your enemy. Maybe I should not have helped you.”
“Somehow,” Limni replied, breathing heavily as he lay resting on the grass, “I do not think that you are sorry that you saved my life. My name is Limni, and I do not feel like your enemy.”
The Lamanite boy smiled. “That river was certainly your enemy,” he said. “Your shoulder is bleeding.” With strong fingers he pulled aside Limni’s shirt to examine the wound. “It is only a bad scrape,” he announced. “It will heal quickly.”
“More quickly, I think, than the bruise on your face.” Limni had noticed the ugly purple lump as the boy knelt over him. “Did you also fall into the river?”
“I fell into disfavor with my uncle,” the young Lamanite answered. He turned to reveal deep welts on his back but offered no further explanation.
“Well, bruised or not, I am glad that you had enough strength to rescue me. Thank you. How old are you, courageous one?”
“I have seen twelve summers, and you can call me Sam.”
“I, too, am just past twelve—too young to protect you from your uncle but old enough to pray that God will soften his heart—or his hand!”.
“Then it is just as my uncle has told me. You Nephites believe in this strange being who you think hears your prayers. You are deceived, and you have deceived most of my people as well. But not my village. There is no God, and you are foolish to believe such traditions. Uncle says that even many of your people no longer believe in this God you speak of.”
Limni looked at the ground. “What you said last is true,” he answered sadly. “Many of our people have become wicked and deny that there is a God. They do not heed the voice of Nephi, our great prophet. But”—he looked directly into Sam’s eyes—“I know that there is a God, and I know that I am His child and that He loves me. You are also His child, Sam, and He loves you too.”
“It is strange that you speak to me in these words. I have in my heart a great secret, Limni, a secret that I would not dare to tell my uncle. Long ago my mother told me, ‘Remember, Sam, there is a God in the heavens. He is your Father, and He loves you.”
The young Nephite was surprised. “I thought you said that no one in your village believed.”
“A man named Samuel came preaching to us, and my mother believed. I think that my father may have believed, too, but he was killed when I was very young. Soon afterward my mother died of a terrible sickness, and I have lived these many years with my uncle. He does not believe that there is a God, and he forbids me to speak of such things.”
“What happened to Samuel?”
“I do not know. He was driven out of our village because of his strange beliefs,” Sam replied.
“I wonder if that could have been the same Samuel who stood on the city wall and preached to my people a few years ago. My father says that he was a prophet but that most of the Nephites wouldn’t listen to him. In fact, they tried to kill him. Poor Samuel. He must have been very discouraged.”
“I, too, am discouraged, Limni. I do not know what to believe. I do know that if my uncle finds out that I have saved the life of a Nephite, he will beat me severely again. He might even kill us both. But I do not believe that I did wrong. I am not sorry that you are alive. I will show you where you can safely cross the river. Come quickly. It is some distance.”
Limni hesitated. “If you get home late, your uncle may beat you, anyway. Could you not just tell me the way?”
Sam looked away and shook his head. “It is too dangerous. And I no longer have a home to return to, anyway. My uncle told me never to come back, because I cannot do enough work to earn my keep.”
Limni put his hands on the Lamanite youth’s shoulders. “Come with me, Sam. I know that my father and mother will welcome you in our home. They will not beat you. Come home with me.”
Limni paused as if reconsidering. “There is one pretty big problem,” he said. “This Samuel—we call him Samuel the Lamanite—promised that Jesus Christ, our Savior, would be born in the land of Jerusalem about five years from the time he spoke. He said that there will be a whole night without any darkness so that we, too, can know of that holy birth. It has been five years now, and our enemies scoff. They have set a date. Unless the sign occurs before then, they will kill all of us who believe.”
Sam thought for a moment. “No darkness at all? Limni, do you believe that such a sign will come?”
“Oh, yes. I know that it will come. I just don’t know whether it will come soon enough. I would not want you to become part of our family and then be killed because of it.”
Sam felt shivery inside—shivery and excited and warm. “My new friend,” he said, “I believe that my mother would want me to go with you. Come now. We must get to the crossing before dark.”
The two boys hurried upriver as quickly as they could, but the undergrowth was so tangled that they progressed slowly. Twice they ducked into the dense foliage and waited breathlessly while small bands of Lamanites passed by.
The sun had sunk behind the trees before the boys arrived at the spot where a huge old tree had fallen into the river. “We can cross most of the way on that trunk,” Sam assured Limni. “And then there are some big rocks in the water. We can easily jump from one to another. I’ll go first and show you.” He paused. “Are you sure that I will be welcome? Perhaps your friends will want to kill me.”
“Sam, my people do not have hatred in their hearts. They will love you if you seek truth and peace.”
“Love? Peace?” Sam smiled and gingerly touched his bruised cheek.
The two youths crossed the river carefully, first walking on the big tree truck, then jumping from rock to rock. They waded the last few yards. Climbing out on the far side, they paused to catch their breath. “We were lucky,” Sam said. “The light lasted until we got across.”
“It’s still lasting!” marveled Limni. “Look around you, Sam. There is no sun or moon. Where is the light coming from?”
The two gazed in astonishment. The world was filled with a curious brightness. It was not the rosy light of sunset that they had been expecting. It was indescribably soft, yet strangely intense—a light such as they had never seen before. After a moment Sam whispered, “It is the sign.”
Limni’s head was bowed in prayer. Quietly into his mind came words that he had often heard his father speak, and he repeated them aloud as he walked side by side with Sam toward home: “‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.’ * Yes, Sam, it is the sign. Tomorrow the Prince of Peace will be born.”