A Prayer of Confidence

© 2001 by Sofía 'Toffee' Francisco

This page was last modified: 2001/03/12


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Author's Note:

And this is Unbroken universe again... what else did you expect? *grins*


"How excellent are the Lord's faithful people!"
- Psalm 16-

It doesn't really matter where I was born, or when. Places and time are subjective, always have been; names of cities and dates of birth only serve to confuse, to muddle up the few clear things we have at the time we open our eyes. I had a mother, but she was unimportant, her influence in my life was minimal, and neither of us cared. My father was a blank card, it was someone in the troupe, but not a singular person Mother could point out; she was that promiscuous. I had sisters and brothers and cousins, a family that surrounded me at all times, just as I was one of the many who surrounded each of them. None of this was really important, it never would be. From the very first day I was taken outside, when I saw the sun and felt it so warm, from that day on all that mattered was faith. The troupe thought it was amusing, that I would so strongly believe in higher powers, in God or something similar, when our very lives were built upon the more pagan tendencies. We were gypsies, all of us, born and bred to speak of the future and steal rings from the hands we read. Mother said that there were some of us who were really empowered, that could tell the future flawlessly and dream of what was to come. But there was no such person among my own family; most of what we did were artful traps or sugar coated lies. The girls learned to dance and read fortunes, the boys learned tricks with sharp weapons and taming animals; but we all, infallibly, learned to steal. Our faith lay in what we could do for ourselves, belief was left to those to whom we foretold riches or pain.

At first I thought I would desert them and become a Christian, what little I had seen of this religion captivated me, the words in the Bible so perfect and close to a utopia I was unable to find a flaw in it. I was so taken that I started attending Mass, standing outside the large wooden doors of a chapel just so I could hear the priests talking. My oldest sister, Magdalena, thought this to be quite ridiculous of me.

"Why believe in that? If that God of yours was really so great... then why are there wars? Why are there things like atom bombs?" she would talk in her fast and choppy fashion, smoothing the clinking embroideries on her many layered skirt in annoyance.

"That is a human doing!" I had cried, upset by her words.

"But if 'we' are His doing then the bomb is His doing too, by default. Is it not? And what about sickness? And death? Aren't those his making too, if he really made everything?" Magdalena was like that always, she had no faith save for her ability to get easy money into her pockets. A lovely raven hared beauty who read Tarot cards in fairs and dark corners, too smart for her own good, too cynical to be loveable.

"There's no point in arguing with you," I replied at last, hating her triumphant smile.

"Aw, Amadeo... you are so boring sometimes!" But she knew she had won so she did not press the issue, not beyond a smirk and a wink. But her goading did not deter me, I believed in God, I wanted to believe in God.

It wasn't until we moved to a slightly larger town that I began to see deeper into my chosen faith, and began to despise it. It was not God that repelled me, but those who called themselves his followers. I would learn to see that the flaw in every faith was not the God but the creation.

This town's chapel was slightly larger, with a high bell tower that bore a cross at its summit. But the chapel was old and the cross was - for unimportant reasons - slightly crooked. Magdalena laughed hysterically when she saw this, dancing in circles around me as her clothes jingled cheerfully.

We settled down here, having found no other troupes in the vicinity, and the people who lived here didn't really mind us at all. But even though I was close to the shrine of my faith something seemed wrong, it was... very wrong. The bells would toll each Sunday morning, and all the believers would crowd together inside the cold building to hear the priest speak of redemption, of judgement. They would sing the psalms and kneel as the wine was made into the blood of Christ, and at that moment no one looked as devout as they, but the minute they stepped out they seemed to forget, their faiths crumbling in an instant.

Magdalena and a few cousins would sit out side church, waiting for the old women who would hide their Bibles under their shawls as they asked, thin voices full of curiosity, what was in store for them? How little was their faith, that they prayed to God for something and then ran to ask a simple mortal if it would be granted? Did they not believe in him wholly? Their religion did not believe in fortune telling or star charts, but they -the humble and faithful- did believe it indeed! It nauseated me, to the point that I was no longer able to go to church, unable to bear the sight of those choir singers who would chant hope and love to God and then run off to see if my older sister's cards foretold money and lust. My mother shook her head at me each time I spoke of this, rolling her eyes at my thoughts.

"Amadeo... faith is to be believed in. These people have faith in God because he brings salvation, and it takes nothing out of them to trust."

"But then... they go to church only to save their souls, but do absolutely nothing to be true to their religion! Their faith is so hollow that they worship only that which will save them at the minimum amount of effort from their side!" I was aghast, but she only laughed.

"Religion is like politics, " she said between laughs. "Everyone brags about their own, but when it comes to a true test...ah, that is when you see who is really devoted, and who does it just for the side-benefits."

And so my faith in God -the Christian God- was slowly undermined. It seemed so impossible to me, that all those songs and words of hope had ended up in nothing but hypocrisy and an easy way to save your soul. I simply could not believe in that! I had faith in God! I had faith in salvation... but not this kind of salvation! People needed to prove themselves, they needed to pave their roads into heaven with their faiths, not with a few Sundays spent in church singing! And if I was to have a faith... I would be truly devoted to it.

These were my thoughts, my whole hearted beliefs. I began to reject Christianity, finding too few real devotees among the swarms of attendants. The bells would call them all together, they would toll as a cry to all those who believed... but what was it in the end? A free marketplace for salvation! I found myself so angered by this, so utterly betrayed, that I when I saw a nun ceremoniously walking near the chapel garden, I ran up to her and told her what I thought. She looked down at me, her soft dark eyes full of sadness and divine trust, like all religious people who choose to oversee the world's pain because it is 'God's wish'.

"God forgives... He forgives everyone, child."

"But then... all those who die in their faith for Him, all those heroes of His legion... they receive the same prize as those who just pray? Those who ask to have their fortunes told later?" It made no sense!

"Heaven has no measures, it is a blessing all are welcome to have. Even those who wander into the pagan magic and prediction can be forgiven for their mistake," she spoke with utter certainty, but not without a touch of sadness.

"But why does God allow sickness and war?" I had cried, and saw her compassionate look grow even deeper, almost swallowing me up.

"God gave us free will, that was his greatest gift to us... and his greatest pain. We are free to do as we please, and he only watches. It is through this that the power of true faith is tested."

"But all those who plead forgiveness at the end, all those who repent... they are treated exactly the same as those who were truly faithful all along?" A strange sadness came into her eyes then, a mixture of pity and understanding that made my throat go dry.

"Yes."

"And still you believe in him?"

"The choices of others do not affect mine. I don't need to be surrounded by faithful ones to have faith myself. But you child, you want to give yourself to your belief, you want proof that faith exists for a reason and not just for the more naive to be rewarded with the same coin as those who pray for personal wealth." She sighed softly and closed her eyes.

"It's just not fair... why don't people do something? Why don't they stop all these wars? Why don't they use faith to save our world, and not just to protect their souls at the last moment! Those people will die and go to heaven... but they will have made hell of the world others will be born in!" My eyes stung as I yelled this, but the nun only smiled and stroked my shaggily cut black hair.

"That is why God needs to be so forgiving... and patient."

"No... it's all upside down... it's all wrong."

But nevertheless the bells would toll every Sunday and people would go to church... and Magdalena would stand outside waiting for the unfaithful to place their hearts on her nimble hands and many coloured cards.

"People need proof, and Christianity gives none," she said one of those days, her eyes dancing with unsupressed mirth as she showed me how much money she had won.

"In that at least... you are correct," my answer clearly surprised her. "But there has to be more than this... there has to be a faith powerful enough to save the world, to stop wars... or fight them for the right reasons."

"Like a Holy Crusade... or a Jihad?" for once she sounded honestly curious and not mocking.

"No. But not like Christianity either..." not like any religion I had heard of. Things had been simplified for a modern world, were even beliefs were the currency to buy something; where only very few had faith because of their hearts, and not because their brains told them it was a good precaution in case hell existed. "Just...true faith. A salvation based on the power of our hearts... not how much money you donate. That won't save your soul."

"Not if you are rich, but it might if you are poor." Which was an uncommon show of spiritualism from my pragmatic sister.

"Still..." Still it wasn't right.

But eventually I gave up on it. I took my place in the troupe and learned to read the lines of the hand and make fanciful demonstrations with swords and daggers. One had to earn money somehow. I met the friendly nun again one or two more times, and my loss of faith saddened her greatly. But she said she'd pray for me, and that would maybe save me. I did not care. When the bells tolled I would run out with my sisters and cousins to wait for the eager audience to come to us, to ask for our divine council with the same fervour they used in singing to the Virgin. I sparred with my cousins and brothers in public, or ran around asking young ladies if they wanted to have their futures read to them. Being young and - as Magdalena so annoyingly put it- cute, was an asset in this case. I learned the trick of the trade and trained to be as fast as pickpocket thieving needed to be. My gradual loss of faith left a hollow feeling inside of me, but I did my best to ignore it and scolded myself for falling for something like that, considering my background and that of my people.

I was six or seven when I was faced with a question of beliefs again... but this time, it was completely different. I heard the languid sound of the bells announcing the Sunday Mass and ran out of bed to being my morning exercises. I grabbed the swords and woke up my cousins, forcing them to get up and begin sparring practice for the show we would put up. I did not know that we were being watched at that very moment. We finished after an hour and arrived just in time for the end of the Mass. Magdalena was already there, resolutely walking to her designated corner a few blocks away, where she could be seen by those who were interested. I let my cousins keep the swords as I ran among the retreating people in search of someone who looked like she wanted to have her palm looked at. I ran a few blocks down the street until I reached the marketplace where my mother read fortunes. I did not know why I had run so far of, but something told me that I should come here. I was not one to believe in destiny (being witness to the destiny my own family claimed to prophesise), but instincts were not unknown to me, and this was a powerful one. At last I came to a stop near a bench, where a young lady sat while daintily eating an ice-cream. She had some flowers beside her on the bench, and her hair was hidden inside a wide-rimmed lilac hat. There was something terribly odd about her, though I couldn't quite place it.

"Oh well," I muttered to myself. "Odd people tend to be esoterics too."

I approached her slowly, the deep unknown feeling becoming stronger and more urgent as I drew closer, until it was almost unbearable. She looked up suddenly, directly into my eyes. I was dumbstruck. Never before had I seen eyes as spectacular as hers, the sun seemed to claim sanctuary within! They were violet, but where the shadows touched they faded to blue, and then pearly lilac where light blossomed again. I didn't know what to say, or how, all I could do was stare and finally:

"Would you like me to tell you your future?"

Her eyes widened when she heard my question, and then she broke in delighted peals of laughter, tears springing to her eyes unbidden as she laughed and laughed. A few drops of melting ice-cream dribbled over her fingers and she licked them still giggling slightly. I frowned and pouted, not liking the way she reacted to my request.

"Oh... I'm sorry, you startled me with that question. No, I don't want to have my future read... but would you like me to tell you yours?" she asked, smiling impishly.

"I... er- no. No thank you," Magdalena and my mother had read it enough times already, and I knew all too well that all they did was toss cards and repeat formulas. "I don't really believe in that." I blinked, suddenly stupefied by what I had just said, and how ridiculous it was for me to do so.

"And yet you asked me if I wanted to know mine... how devoted of you."

Her words burned their way into my heart and left me aching and angry. Devoted? What my family did was not a religion... but people believed it to be something similar. We used it as a way to earn money, yet those who believed us thought we were messiahs of their future. They had faith in us! And we... we offered an empty outlet to their need for faith. While Christian priests at least believed what they said, we behaved in the same way and with much less conviction! I was nauseated by the whole affair, unable to get my breath beyond my suddenly tight throat.

"It's not religion... we just tell..."

"What people want to hear," she finished for me, her brows raised in comical sadness. "Well, I do believe in what I predict, but it is not religion either. What I tell people is not a fancy story they need, but the truth they abhor... or fear. The future is not always nice, and many believe that once you know it, you can change it."

"Can't you?"

"Perhaps... I wouldn't know. I am fulfilling a task set out for me, because if I finish it right I might be able to see the triumph of man over fate. I am Fate's minion, but I spread her truths only for the good of man, and to those who are brave enough to withstand it." She smiled all of a sudden, her fingers straying to the bundle of flowers that lay beside her. "But I also sell flowers, to those who prefer to live in ignorance and enjoy the beauty of life. Those who don't know the truths behind our existence... will always be happier than those who do."

I stared at her, still unable to speak.

"What's your name?" she asked after a few minutes, her head tipped to one side questioningly.

"A-a... Amadeo."

"He who loves God? How ironic, don't you think?" she laughed again, and leaned back into her seat apparently tired. "So... what will it be Amadeo... flowers or future?"

I stared at her in silence, fighting back the layers of foggy confusion that weighed upon my mind. The woman's words offering a little guiding light through the haze, to get me through the questions I had carried in my heart from the day my memory began. I was a liar, just like the lies I had so hated, but she was not. She was real. I could see it in her eyes and in the phantom quality of her being, like a silky apparition that would fade when I looked away. But her words... the truths she offered were real, or at least she believed them to be so. There was only one answer I could give.

"Future."

All in all she did not really tell me what would happen. She just promised me that I would find faith, and I would learn to believe in divine forces again. Then she handed me a white lily and made me promise I would put up a sword-fighting show near where we had spoken, on the next Sunday. She gave me no reasons, just told me to do it. I obeyed. After the show was over a strange man approached us, dazzled by my technique he spoke to my mother for a long while, until they agreed on a price for me. The tall man bought me and took me away, telling me I had potential... and power. Real power.

It would be years before I actually completed my task, but long before that I already had my faith back, in my own power and that of the heavens. Becoming the bodyguard of an ancient Greek Goddess sounded ludicrous at first, until I understood what this was about. We had not only our faith but our power, the ability to change the world and eliminate the utterly corrupt. As a saint I learned the value of my own beliefs, and found in Athena the image of what I trusted. This was not empty worship! We fought and bled for what we believed in! We lived and died for out faith! Our Goddess demanded not our repentance but our trust and courage to carry out her words and help her in her mission. It was all I had ever dreamed of, all I ever wanted. So I vowed that I would be the most faithful.

The End


Toff's here:

Ah yes, I know. This was not a very flattering fic where religion is concerned, I apologise to anyone who felt seriously offended. But... what can I say? It just came out like that!


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