I don't think there is a more tragic character in all history than King Coriantumr, as he appears in Ether 15. He sees the approaching destruction of his people. He knows that they are marching steadily to total extinction. And try as he might to broker peace and save his civilization, he is powerless to stop it.
What makes things immeasurably worse is that he knows their destruction could have been averted, if only he himself had chosen differently. Just eight or nine years earlier, Ether, the outcast prophet, had come alone to the king with a prophecy: if Coriantumr and all his household would repent, the Lord would secure to him his kingdom and the people would be spared. If not, they would all be destroyed. Every person, his dearest friends, his fiercest enemies, his every subject, would die. Coriantumr would survive alone to watch the land be given to another people, and they would be the ones to bury him.
Things looked different then. It was only the second year of a civil war in which Coriantumr would have seen himself as the good guy. The rebels who rose up against him were many; they "were mighty men, and sought to destroy Coriantumr by their secret plans of wickedness" even "secret combinations (Ether 13:15, 18). Meanwhile, Coriantumr presided over a family who were loyal to each other (a beautiful contrast to the families of apparently righteous Kib [Ether 7:3-9], Omer [Ether 8-9:3], Com ([Ether 9:25-26], and Shez [Ether 10:2-3], and unrighteous Kim [Ether 10:13-14]). I imagine he figured he didn't need to repent. And maybe he thought he was justified in unjust actions to try and secure his throne, thinking desperate times called for desperate measures. Maybe he thought that Ether was in cahoots with his enemies, advising him to be weak when he needed to have the strength to do the expedient thing. Maybe he thought that Ether was trying to control him, to turn him into a puppet.
It would not have helped that Ether was of the ancient royal line. His grandfather was King Moron, who lost the throne to a descendant of the brother of Jared. There was historical precedent for heirs of that line to dwell in captivity for generations and then recover the kingdom (Ether 10:30-32). So it would have been easy for Coriantumr to see Ether as a rival, to worry that his prophetic guidance was politically motivated, and to ignore it. What it would not have been easy to do in his besieged circumstances would have been to get past his defensiveness, look inside himself and recognize his own need to repent.
By the time he got to the events recorded in Ether 15, Coriantumr had survived three challenges to his throne. The challengers, Shared, Gilead and Lib, were dead. So were two million of his men and their wives and children. The current challenger, Shiz, was the brother of Lib and his bloodthirst was unprecedented. He had taken the war to civilians, killing women and children and burning the cities that didn't support him. There was no longer any safe place in the land. People had to flee their homes and join one of the armies, or be killed when Shiz came upon them (Ether 14: 17-20,27).
Coriantumr, having been forced into temporary stillness by an injury, gained enough perspective to see the writing on the wall. It dawned on him that Ether was right; the division between his people really was going to destroy them all. He began repenting and came up with a plan to end the war. He sent a message to Shiz, offering to trade the throne in exchange for the safety of all his supporters.
Shiz agreed on condition that he personally got to execute Coriantumr. I used to think that was what dissuaded Coriantumr from seeking peace, but that is not what the scripture says. It says "the people repented not of their iniquity; and the people of Coriantumr were stirred up to anger against the people of Shiz; and the people of Shiz were stirred up to anger against the people of Coriantumr' (Ether 15:6). And so the people of Shiz attacked.
It isn't clear whether Coriantumr was considering Shiz's demand when the attack happened. It is pretty clear that, even if he was, his blood could not have bought his country's peace. The two camps had become so entrenched in their hatred of each other that they were going to destroy each other no matter what their leaders decided. If Coriantumr were killed, I imagine that would have just made him a martyr and his followers would seek to avenge his blood. Furthermore, Ether's prophecy was pretty specific that if Coriantumr didn't repent, he would be the only one to survive. And if he did, the kingdom would be given to him. Giving himself up to Shiz for execution would not fulfill any of the terms of the prophecy.
We don't get much insight into Coriantumr's state of mind as his world continued to unravel. We see that, two days into the final battle, he tried again to trade the throne for peace, but it appears his message fell on deafened ears (Ether 15:18-19). We know that when the final 59 warriors had all fainted from loss of blood, Coriantumr's men recovered first. It seems like they could have put an end right then to their unconscious enemies. Instead, they chose life and decided to walked away, only to be pursued by Shiz and his men. To me, these details suggest that Coriantumr was still repenting, hoping that Ether's promise might yet be fulfilled. But it was too late. The opportunity to save his people had been open to him 8-10 years ago. Now, the entrenched choices of others barred the way. Try as he might, there was nothing he could do to change that.
What do I learn from this story:
Coriantumr didn't actually have power over the souls of anyone but Coriantumr. He learned that at the end of his life, when the people he commanded refused the peace he sought desperately to establish. I likewise don't have power over the souls of others.
That said, my choice of whether or not to cleave unto Christ does create influence, or power with, the souls of others. And the Lord's promises to me, associated with my covenants, suggest that influence has the potential to be at least as mighty as Coriantumr's could have been.
The sooner I choose righteousness, the greater my scope for righteous influence on the world around me. Honoring covenants and heeding prophetic counsel now may even lead to miracles in the lives of my loved ones and my society.
In times of division, it is difficult to hear prophetic counsel without feeling threatened. The prophet will always invite us to repent, while the Adversary will whisper that we don't need to -- that it's our enemies to whom the prophet should be speaking. But the only safe path forward is the path of personal repentance. And walking that path is the way that I can exercise the most liberating influence in the lives around me.
If I delay repentance and instead exercise unrighteous influence in the lives around me, I will tend to draw them toward the being who wants to control, not liberate, them. The further they come under the influence of the Adversary, the less strength any other influence has with them. There can come a time when my power to influence others all but disappears. But even so, it is never too late to repent. And repentance is always a form of victory.
Finally, I see Coriantumr‘ story as a cautionary tale in mortality. But I don’t think we really know how it ended, because death isn’t the end. If Coriantumr truly repented, then I am sure the Lord would have given him the opportunity in the Spirit world to reach after those he’d failed in mortality. I imagine him joyously labouring now toward the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.