Caternia’s Castle

Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve (Alma 30:8).

Twelve-year-old Caternia sat on the floor of the small, cluttered attic, rummaging through the old chest. The big, tattered coffer and its treasured contents had belonged to her great-great-uncle, Ephram Gage. The sweet, musty smell that floated out of the wooden box only added to the wonder and mystery of its contents. As soft, filtered light seeped through a small attic window, it washed across each object she touched.

Next week was Caternia’s turn to give the lesson in family home evening, and she wanted to do something different about families. “Maybe there’s something in Great-Great-Uncle Gage’s old wooden chest that might be of some help,” her father had suggested. The idea intrigued Caternia, so she’d climbed the steep stairway to the attic.

This wasn’t the first time she’d been there. In fact, it had become her secret place, where she could pray and think and read in private. Her parents had said that everyone should have such a place where they could go to pray and think things out.

Caternia shared a bedroom with her little sister, Ebony. It seemed like every time she tried to be alone, Ebony’s pet hamster, Bartholomew, would get loose, and Ebony always recruited two or three friends to assist in the hunt. By the time Bartholomew was back in his cage, the room was in total chaos—rummaged drawers, scattered school papers, and beds that looked more turbulent than her father’s just-plowed field!

After every successful capture, a victory party was held—in Caternia and Ebony’s bedroom, of course. The festivities were loud enough to out-noise, Caternia was sure, all the other sounds made since Adam, stacked together. Caternia had learned to seek refuge in the small, quiet attic.

The problem that had been most recently weighing on her mind was the big test coming up in her math class. In order to remain on the dance team at school, she had to maintain a grade of C or better. That wasn’t difficult in her other subjects, but math was especially hard for her. Her parents had helped her all they could, and so had her instructor at school, but she just wasn’t able to grasp it. If she scored well on this test, however, she would get a C for the term and be able to continue on the dance team. If she failed …

Two days earlier, one of her friends had found the test with the answers in their teacher’s desk drawer during recess and had copied it. She offered to give it to Caternia. Caternia knew that cheating was wrong, but she stood to lose her place on the team if she didn’t do well on the test.

As she sat now in the attic, mulling over what she should do, she withdrew an old World War I boot from the trunk. She pushed a fingernail into a crack and scraped out a trace of dirt, which floated like dust through the gilded light. “Dirt,” she uttered out loud. “Maybe it’s from the trenches where so many died.”

But not Uncle Gage. Somehow he had survived the bullets and the barbed wire and the gas. He had made the right moves. Dropped to the ground at the right time. “And prayed constantly,” she remembered her father having once told her, “that God would be mindful of him in his darkest hour. That he might be worthy of a loving Father’s saving grace in his time of greatest need.”

Replacing the shoe, she picked up a compass. It was old, like everything else in the chest, and scratched. But it still worked. It probably had helped Uncle Gage find his way when the smoke and fear of war clouded his judgment. Just like the gospel of Jesus Christ helps me find the way, she thought.

Her eyes faltered as guilt crept across her heart, stealing away her peace like clouds hiding the sun from the land. “But I just have to pass that test,” she protested out loud. “I just have to! I just …”

Her voice trailed suddenly as she pulled out a large tintype of a great castle. The photograph was faded and yellowed, but the castle’s walls were strong and appeared impenetrable. Like the gospel, she deduced, that fortifies one against any assault by the adversary if we keep the commandments.

“But I always do,” she defended herself aloud. “Well, almost always. Surely one wrong isn’t going to outweigh all the right I’ve done. Besides, everybody makes mistakes. I’ll repent after the test. Heavenly Father will understand.” But how much harder would her repentance be, she speculated, when she knew beforehand that what she was going to do was wrong?

As she started to replace the tintype in the chest, her eyes fell upon a hole in the bottom of one of the castle’s great walls. It was a small hole, but it went clear through the wall, and it was big enough for an enemy to slip through and do his dark work.

Caternia sat back against a large vertical timber and gazed at the picture. That’s all that the adversary needs to penetrate our spiritual walls, she reflected. Just one small hole. Just one small sin.

Her eyes lifted to the haze of light that seeped through the little window. Tears oozed down her cheeks. “Forgive me, Heavenly Father,” her lips trembled. “Please forgive me.” Her gaze returned to the old tintype. She stared at it for some time, then closed her eyes in prayer.

An hour later, she descended from the attic. She held the tintype close to her.

“Did you find something you can use in next week’s family home evening?” her mother asked.

Caternia nodded, wiping residual tears from her cheek. “Yes, I did,” she got out. “This old picture. I found it in Uncle Gage’s—”

“Is everything all right, honey?” her mother interrupted when she saw her daughter’s tear-red eyes.

“Yes, Mama. And I’m going to make sure it stays that way, no matter what!”

The following day at school, she told the girl who had offered to share the test questions with her that she had chosen not to cheat. Caternia explained why and encouraged her friend to do the same.

For the next few days, she studied diligently. It wasn’t easy, but she had committed to do all she could do, then ask Father in Heaven for His help. The day after the test, one of her friends saw her crying by her locker.

“Did you fail the math test?”

“No.” Caternia smiled. “I got a B-.

“Then why are you crying?”

“Because I’m so happy!”

Following family home evening the next Monday, Caternia went to the attic to return the tintype to Uncle Gage’s chest. As she placed it atop the other contents, she gazed one last time at it in the amber glow of an old lamp. She again promised herself and Heavenly Father that she would work each day to keep her spiritual walls strong. She gently ran a finger across the castle’s walls and remembered with warmth the special feeling that had filled her halfway through the test—a feeling that told her in a quiet, whispered way that Someone was with her. She closed the lid of the trunk, leaned back against the timber, and expressed her gratitude to a loving Heavenly Father for helping her in her hour of need.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Eagle