Decisions of Faith: War’s Call by Ernesto I. Ramirez

Jordan watched the city’s gate from her window, her body pushed close to the wall. It was the third time she had done so that day. Another group of soldiers and displaced farmers was returning from the fierce battles with the orcs. As always the temple’s priests attended the wounded and helped the others while Jordan observed in secret.The girl returned to her desk and studies. The vortex of expectations, regrets and righteousness mixing in her heart left Jordan’s mouth with a bittersweet taste.

Before she could concentrate again on her studies, someone knocked on her door. She stared at the wood anxiously, filled with excitement and expectation. She breathed deeply and prayed to Iomedae for patience and calmness, just as she did yesterday, and the day before that.

-”Myrna, please come in”.

A smiling, golden haired girl opened the door. She was wearing a silver tunic with a golden sword and cross of Iomedae embroidered on her chest, identical to the one worn by Jordan, except that Myrna’s showed a bit of her cleavage.

-”Your Holiness Jordan, a group of soldiers arrived from the front bringing news from His Eminence Fenix,” – the golden haired girl said with a deep bow.

Jordan stood up immediately. A wealth of emotions crossed her face and eyes, ranging from excitement and happiness to anguish and fear. Jordan closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to stay calm as her father had taught her. When she opened her eyes again, she noticed Myrna’s conspiratorial smile.

Jordan answered it by moving her hands to her waist, tilting her head in reproach and disapproval, but Myrna could see the smile in her eyes and knew the pose as a hollow gesture. She had been her servant in the temple and closest friend for many years; Jordan could hide nothing from her.

-”Myrna, I have told you a thousand times that after passing through that door you should leave the social and religious protocols behind. Here I am just Jordan, you don’t need to make such a fuss to tell me that they bring news from my father.”

Myrna, as she had many times before, nodded to her friend. Both of them knew she would keep doing it. The blond understood how much it bothered the High Priest’s daughter to be called by her unofficial title.

But when Jordan was about to leave her room in a rush, her friend stopped her, looking her from head to toe as if judging her. Myrna crossed her arms and shook her head.

-”Dear, those men came looking for his Eminency’s Daughter, not just another supplicant to Iomedae’s priesthood… come, let me help you dress properly. You don’t want to wait long to learn news from him, right?”

Grudgingly Jordan acquiesced and let Myrna help her, knowing her friend was right. Her need for comfort would always be superseded by the needs of the church and the people, in everything except just one issue, and her father approved of that decision.

Once Jordan left the bath tub full of water and rose essence, Myrna dried her body and combed her hair, her official tunic already laying on her bed. The dress had been chosen by the clerics and accepted by the congregation. Jordan had no say on the matter. It was almost identical to her usual tunic, except the fabric was silk and a lot softer to the touch. The dress’ details were more elaborate, and where there should have been an embroidered symbol of Iomedae, in its place was nothing, but low cleavage, opening from her neck to her bellybutton, revealing both the curves of her small breasts. Most importantly, the dress featured the birthmark that ran between them. It was a silver mark of a long and thin sword, the blade pointing downward. The sword adorned by a sun that met between the blade and the hilt. The dress was designed to prominently show Jordan’s birthmark for all to see. The young applicant to Iomedae’s faith felt the blood rising to her torso and face, feeling insecure wearing a dress like that, but she understood that people wanted to see the living touch of their goddess on engraved flesh, the symbol of Iomedae’s watchful eye over them.

-”You know Jordan… sometimes I feel envious that it was you and not me chosen to have her mark,” – Myrna said casually as she touched the symbol, forcing even more blood on Jordan’s cheeks, knowing she is one of the few who has had the honor to touch it when many have asked. – “Thanks to this little shiny mark you always get the best dresses, of course considering how hard you push yourself to get things done… I do feel relieved I do not have this burden over my shoulders.”

Myrna laughed lightly, but Jordan gave her a slightly serious look of reproach that made the other girl feel ashamed even if she just shrugged a bit, “I know, one can’t joke with fate, or challenge it.”

A few minutes later, Jordan entered by herself into High Priest Fenix’s office, where there were five persons waiting for her. Two of them were soldiers recovering from their wounds, possibly the least wounded of those that had arrived. Also in attendance were a couple of farmers, who had surely come representing their communities’ best interests. The last of them was Markus van Dorf, the firstborn of the noble house van Dorf, which always had helped Iomedae’s Temple and her family. But after laying eyes on him, Jordan could not restrain the metallic taste of blood in her mouth. She had no idea what the other people came for… but looking at van Dorf she could guess the general intention of the meeting.

The old chaplain Iolaus was already there, playing the gracious host, or as gracious as the dry, grave and efficient cleric could be. He was the exact opposite of what her father had been with the people. She knew that the chaplain had called for her because it was urgent business, otherwise he would have tended to it himself. That had been the orders given by her father 12 years ago, and the old chaplain had never disobeyed them. Neither he nor Jordan would receive anyone unless it was a grave matter or it was their desire to do it.

At the moment when she stepped in, those men felt the strong aura of righteousness flowing around her, and everyone’s eyes were compelled to look upon her. Immediately Jordan felt their eyes staring at her chest, falling first directly over Iomedae’s symbol, but most of them taking their time to explore the rest of her body in detail, especially the lustful eyes of Markus van Dorf, who had never hid that his interest in her was beyond religious fervor. She tried as hard as she could to stay calm, but feeling the crimson blush on her face and chest, she knew she had failed.

Her father had already rejected twice the offering of the van Dorf family for Jordan’s hand, insisting that only she could decide when, with whom, and if she would get married at all. Of course that had not stopped the young van Dorf from finding excuses to be in her presence every opportunity he could get; trying to woo her every single time. Not that it served him at all.

Some days Jordan felt she was being unfair with poor Markus… but even when she did, she would remember he was the nephew of the judge Lucretia van Dorf… and just remembering what she did to her mother made Jordan’s heart grow colder toward the young man.

She knew her emotions were reflected in her face and that her look of disdain toward van Dorf had made all of them uncomfortable, so she breathed deeply and after a few seconds she returned to her real self: a kind and smiling servant of the Inheritor, offering her hand freely to anyone who needed help and hoping all of them had arrived with good health. While moving and greeting all of them, she had to stop a farmer’s hand that clearly moved with religious fervor toward her chest. “I am a servant of Iomedae, not a relic to be touched. Please understand.” said the girl her smile never wavering from her face. For van Dorf, even though she knew he hoped for another treatment, she reserved just a dry nod.

After the quick and kind greetings she sat in her father’s desk ready to hear the news they all brought. They told her that the war was worsening, despite Marquis Ostrovel and his Eminence Fenix great victories in Iomedae’s name. The large number of casualties was taking a toll on the battlefield and the moral of the men.

Jordan listened to the men’s words and felt the pressing need to go back with them. That’s why they came, after all. But the more she listened the more her mind focused elsewhere, taking her into paths of memory she would prefer not to visit.

-”We lose many soldiers every day in the field before our healers and clerics have the chance to assist them. Maybe if the Holy Daughter of his Eminence Fenix returned with us to the front, our people would have a better chance. Think of the hope that will brought to the army.” said an exited soldier, bringing Jordan back to the present.

Almost every other week, either the Marquis or another noble had sent for her, trying to appeal to her kindness and sense of righteousness, even instill guilt in her. The people in the town came looking for her, begging for their loved ones to get a better chance of survival through her. They asked her if touching the dying and saving them was so hard or terrible? They wondered why she would choose to deny her own people. Even Myrna asked once, before regretting the words and asking for forgiveness. Only her father had not asked it of her. It was her choice and he supported it completely.

Jordan sighed and stood, looking a lot colder than when she had arrived.

-”I am sorry, but I cannot accompany you back there. Maybe the young van Dorf would be kind enough to explain my reasons; I am tired of explaining myself so often. I should return to my duties now.”

When she was leaving the older soldier took her arm and looked into her eyes with severity – “Duties? What duty could be more important than helping your people?”

Jordan just looked over her shoulder to the despairing soldier and returned his severe look with one of infinite sadness as she though of her father.

-”I already lost my mother to your wars and Golarion’s crows. I don’t remember any of those fine men, with the exception of my father, raising a hand to protect her or their voices to complain about such injustice… I am sorry, but I can’t stop what fate stored for those who claimed my mother’s blood.’

And with that the room grew silent and Jordan left without any further trouble; in private, however, the young supplicant would cry herself to sleep asking for Iomedae’s forgiveness.

After she had left them, the surprised and shocked men looked down with shame and regret. Even Markus van Dorf, who had never had an ill thought for Novannia Fenix, Jordan’s mother, felt himself full of guilt and sadness, knowing that thanks to his selfish and strict aunt an innocent woman had been condemned to death, and because of that he would never earn Jordan’s love.

The story continues in Decisions of Faith: Lastwall