Jean de Metz, Part II
After a long night's ride, on the morning of Thursday, February 24th, we found refuge at the Abbey of Saint Urbain. Three monks took our horses to their barn, while two others led us by torch light to our chambers. None of the monks noticed that we had a girl of seventeen in our group, because in her heavy winter clothes Jeanne looked like a boy.
That morning, before going to sleep, Jeanne insisted that we attend morning Mass. I observed Jeanne's conduct closely. The complete concentration, piety and devotion that she gave to the Mass impressed me. At the Consecration, Jeanne's devotion intensified and when the Host was elevated for adoration, I saw her eyes filled with tears. My soul was moved to its depths.
The priest turned in my direction and being close at hand, I received Communion first. I closed my eyes to give the Lord a shallow, momentary thought. I opened them to see Jeanne's whole being radiate her joy as the priest approached her with the Blessed Sacrament. I clearly saw her bright, blue eyes widen with expectation as she fixed her gaze upon the little round Host. In an instant I knew, to my shame, that I had not paid the respect and reverence due to Our Lord. With the swiftness of revelation, her expression taught me what years of religious training had not, that the Creator of the universe humbly hid Himself as bread, so that unafraid, we could partake of His majesty and grace. This kind of profound thought was not common to me and it made me tremble.
As the priest placed Our Lord on her outstretched tongue, I saw her chest heave. No longer seeing any movement of her breath, her face whitened, becoming paler than pale. Now her eyes opened wide and intense. Her lips parted as though in awe. She looked past the priest, past the altar, past even the walls of the chapel. Her vision fixed on something or someone so awesome, so immense, so tangible and so real that nothing on earth could contain it. Jeanne, oblivious to those around her, remained deep in intimate prayer for a long time afterward. Finally renewed in her strength by the Lord, she encouraged all of us to be of good cheer, as our journey would end successfully.
"What have you heard about the war, Jeanne?"
She reined in her horse and guided it carefully to my side. "I was eight years old when I first took notice of how talk of the war became more frequent and intense. I remember sitting in the evening, before my father's hearth, listening to my papa speak to the usual assembly of friends and neighbors. The fire cast its dancing shadows on us, yet its warm joy belied the seriousness of the conversation. All the conversations held there were the same - sometimes with a new twist, some new outrage, - the never-changing sadness of the people... THE WAR."
"Too young to fully understand, yet in the depths of my heart, I knew and grasped it all. My father was relating the latest horrendous news. The Queen Mother had disowned and maligned her only surviving son, declaring him illegitimate! Depriving him of his rightful place as heir to the throne of France, she forsook him for a foreigner... an 'ANGLIA...DUNG! What will become of us? How will we survive? Who will lead us?' One or the other would ask, 'What is to be done? Has God abandoned us?' There were no answers, only silence and weeping."
"I had no regard for myself, nor what was to become of my people. My only thought was for the gentle little Dauphin and how alone and frightened he must feel. I could not remove this thought from my mind and heart, because I knew that all the news I was hearing, he heard as well."
"Many times my father spoke these words in his low, strong voice, yet it was not without a slight trembling, 'The great pity that was the Kingdom of France.' These words burned their way into my mind, along with the image of the Dauphin. They were never far from my thoughts or prayers. I did not know from where or whence my words welled up from, but I shouted, 'God, place the sword of victory into the hands of our Dauphin!' The others stared at me in wide-eyed wonder for being such a brash child. My brother, John, rolled his mocking eyes at me. If nothing else it was good for a laugh. But oh, how my eight-year-old heart burned as I turned my eyes back down to my weaving. I learned a good lesson that night; I would hold tight to my own thoughts from now on."
"An ancient prophecy was brought to the attention of the gathering. It was only now, with the desperation the people felt, that it took on a new urgency. Over the coming weeks, whisperings of this long-ago prophecy were passed from one villager to the next. No one could stop it. No one tried, for it brought a drop of hope in a withered and despairing heart. The whispers grew louder and louder, until one night at the usual gathering, before my father's hearth, the words finally broke free of their fetters. It was the father of my friend, Simonin, who drew up the courage to proclaim them. 'I have recently heard a prophecy that tells of a time when the Kingdom of France would be destroyed by a woman but saved by a maid. Now we have all come to know whom this woman is, the detestable Queen Mother. But who could this maid be?'"
" 'Never mind who. A better question to ask is how?' My godfather, Jean Moreau said. 'How could a maid accomplish something that great captains and vast armies have tried and failed to do? That's what I'd like to know!.'"
"My father added, 'One of those homeless vagabonds told me about a prophecy, but it is so fantastic, it's certainly hard to believe.' The others pressed him to reveal the mystery so that they could decide for themselves. 'A maid from the marshland of Lorraine will accomplish wondrous deeds!' "
"There was a momentary silence. Then the entire assembly roared in uncontrollable laughter. All, that is, except me. I just wondered at them. I saw the truth; why couldn't they? How I wanted to shout, 'For God, nothing is impossible,' but I bit my tongue, catching myself in time. My young eyes searched their faces and took note of their eyes, something I had not consciously done before. From one to the next, I peered into them, measuring and weighing what I found. To my surprise, I discovered a great difference between the grown-ups gathered there and those of my playmates. Somehow I could sense an emptiness, a coldness in the adults, while my friends were bright, active and alive. 'Yes, that's it,' I thought, 'a sense of hope was missing in our parents, as if a candle flame had been extinguished. Is that what the words in the prayer 'valley of tears' meant? The sorrows and tensions of daily living had extinguished all signs of hopeful expectancy from their lives?' "
"As the years passed, I grew in understanding while the war raged on. Each day the terror of the fighting crept ever closer, stretching its bony fingers towards my village. I could feel the anxiety swell within me as my heart raced a little faster. The only solace I ever found was in prayer."
"Domremy was attacked twice by a band of Brigandines. The second time they came it was very bad. My village was asleep, except for the man who kept watch in the church's bell tower. Suddenly the bell sounded wildly! Everyone knew exactly what it meant... Brigandines! In an instant, my family and I jumped from our beds."
"It took them only moments, wide-eyed, and with hearts racing like frightened little birds, we dressed and gathered what little we could carry on our backs. Even though I could feel the fear strain my muscles and rack my nerves, I never let it stop me from doing what had to be done. The villagers kept their livestock in a common area at night. I was first to reach it and began to guide the animals out toward safety. Soon the men assigned to this task came and I ran home to help my parents. Even now, a shiver runs through me as I remember that night - cold. It was a cold that creeps into your bones and chills your marrow. I remembered hearing the other women cry and their children screaming. I studied my mother closely and saw all this horror reflected in her eyes. Even so, she neither screamed nor cried, but with jaw set and lips drawn tight, she calmly did what had to be done. She never looked back. Not once!"
"I remembered the sound of thunder, the noise of many horses hooves shaking the earth beneath them, I saw specks of light, as if some sort of flying thing came racing down the valley. It was the Brigandines, torches in hand, ready to do Satan's bidding - eager to kill, steal and maim. I could hear their sarcastic, evil laughter ringing in her ears, as they set fire to the thatched roofs while others rounded up the cattle and sheep. The black sky burned red as the thick, acrid smoke choked their throats. Seeing this, my father decided to lead us further south to the fortified town of Neufchateau."
"Our journey through the terror of that night was long and tiring, but we found lodging at Madame La Rousse's inn just as the sun was cresting over the horizon. To help pay for our keep, my family and I worked long hours at the inn doing many assorted chores. After a week or more, one of our neighbors came by to inform my father that the Brigandines had left and it was safe for us to return home. We were happy at the news, yet anxious as well, afraid of what we would find when we arrived back home. Our worst fears were realized when we saw that all but a few homes had been burnt to the ground. I cried a torrent of tears because the enemy had even destroyed our village church."
"Only two walls of my father's house were left standing, the rest was rubble and ashes. My mother, Isabelle, set her burden down to view the devastation that once was our village. It was then, and only then, that she wept. I could not help but cry for and with my momma. As our family gathered close 'round her, Isabelle began to pray. All joined her in prayer, giving thanks to God for our survival and safety while asking for the courage and strength to start anew."
"Many times since I first heard my Voices, I came to a crossroads. Did I want these visions to continue or did I want them to stop? That was easy to answer, with all my heart, I wanted my Saints to come, because I wanted always to be in such a blessed state. It was not until I was told I had to go to war and lead the gentle Dauphin to his anointing that I came to the next crossroads. That decision was much harder for me to make. Did I want to give up all the things that in the past represented love, security and safety: my parents' warm embrace, the good and loving companionship of my childhood girl friends, the familiarity of my little village and the security of my daily routine? All these things I knew I would have to leave behind, in order to go down an uncharted and lonely road. I pondered this question for a long time. I wrestled daily with my decision and fear. It was with much soul searching, tears and distress, that I struggled to find my way."
"Strangely enough, the answer came in the form of a man and his seven year old son, who one day came to the door, asking for some food. My parents, as was their custom, warmly welcomed them in and not only fed but had them stay the night. After supper the man spoke of his tragic experience, how he had lost every thing he loved in a single night's raid. His farm, his house, and his wife were all gone. 'How sad for them,' I thought. The little boy unexpectedly came and sat down beside me. As he looked up at me with his beautiful, sad brown eyes, he asked why his mother had to die. I realized then, that God had sent them to expose my selfishness."
"Tears rolled down my cheek as I considered how self-centered I was. How could I choose my desires over the needs of so many poor and suffering people, especially since I had the power to do something about it? At that moment my vision became clear and I knew what I had to do! I rejected my wants for those of the greater good. I chose Our Lord's will over my own. At that moment, a peace entered and filled my being. I knew in a flash that I had chosen correctly and would never regret this decision. For with the help, strength and love that my Voices would give me, I knew I would be able to accomplish what the Lord asked of me."
"I remember sitting by the kitchen fire, listening to my father's tales about the Dauphin's brave captains and how they faithfully serve the kingdom. I hope they are as brave in reality as I imagine them to be. God needs them to work His will."
I pulled at my chin, a habit I have, and nodded in agreement. Jeanne then looked at me with a whimsical smile. "Tell me your memories, Jean."
"Instantly, in the silence of my mind, scenes from my childhood tumbled into my mind. Yet, one in particular overwhelmed all the rest; the day that changed my life forever. The sharpness of my memory brought me back to when I was seven. I remember distinctly that my father and I were together in the castle's courtyard. He had just given me my very first sword. The weapon, in proper proportion to my size, was made of wood and painted to look like a real sword. How proud my father was when he placed his strong right hand on my shoulder. 'You are now man enough to begin your training as a knight. You will be a knight as I am, as my father was and his father before him. You, Jean, will join the long line of valiant and noble warriors of the Castle de Nouvilonpont. I know that when you become a man, you too will bring honor to our noble family name.' "
"My father, to be more on my level, went to his knees as he encouraged my attack. With fearless spirit I went at him, laughing as I fought. The thought that I pleased him with my valor and aggression filled my heart with joy. Together we spent half the day training before the disastrous event struck my peaceful home."
"Unexpectedly the castle's alarm bell began ringing wildly. A great commotion erupted in the courtyard as the guards, running this way and that, shouted and unsheathed their swords. My father jumped to his feet. He, too, shouted trying to give orders over the tumult. I don't know why the gate and portcullis were open, but they were. A moment after the alarm sounded, the unknown enemy started to penetrate our defenses. Immediately my father ordered me into the safety of the castle's main stronghold, where my mother was anxiously waiting for me. He then turned to face the enemy as his attendants armed him with breastplate, helmet and sword. With the speed of lightning he bravely unsheathed his sword to face the foe. He flourished his sword high above his head and with a defiant yell shouted, 'For God and Saint Denis!' "
"Swiftly, a mounted knight came riding through our gate. He dealt death with each powerful blow of his broad-ax. Our soldiers fell one after another as he advanced closer and closer to where my father stood. My father was too busy fighting to notice the danger coming up behind him. From where I stood, I clearly saw the mounted knight about to strike him down. I screamed out in terror, trying to warn him of his danger. He turned to look at me. At that very instant, when our eyes met, the enemy soldier with whom he was fighting ran him through with a swift forward thrust of his sword. At the same instant the mounted knight struck his blow upon my father's head. The blade of the ax dug deep, cutting through the metal of his helmet with ease. The ax blow cleaved his helmet with such force that his blood gushed like a fountain splattering the ground around him. He fell first to his knees and then onto his face where he lay in a heap. The blood from his belly wound began to pool beside his twitching corpse. How bright red this liquid was; how quickly it stained the white of his tunic. Time moved slowly for me as I watched his body hit the ground."
"Screaming 'papa, papa,' I ran over to him. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I fell to my knees at his side. Still screaming 'papa' I shook him, trying in vain to awaken him from his slumber. Splattered around the jagged edges of his smashed helmet were clumps of thick irregular flesh. I gazed in terror at his hacked and bleeding body. That day I was baptized in his crimson blood!"
"With my emotions raging within me, I turned to see who had struck my father down. I glared with grief and anger at the mounted knight. His coat of arms was seared into my memory, a white shield dominated by a red rampant lion. Traversing the full width of the shield, near the lion's jaw, was a 'Lambel' of blue. I found out later that this shield belonged to the Count of Luxembourg. 'To whomever this shield belongs,' I said to myself, 'I swear eternal vengeance on him and his men for what they have done this day!' "
"Soon after my father's death the invaders took control of the castle. Roughly they shoved me to where my mother stood. Grief, anger and fear now distorted her once beautiful face. The next day after we buried my father and the other soldiers, different armed men came. They came to take me away, away from my home and my mother. Her last words to me were, 'Jean, be a good boy and do everything that your master tells you. He will teach you the ways of knighthood. Grow up to be a good and brave knight so that your dear father would be proud of you. Know that I love you and will always love you.' "
"Her face flushed with emotion as hot tears streamed down her cheeks and she held me tight to her soft breasts. With the side of my face still wet from her tears they abruptly pulled me from her arms. Twice I looked back and cried, 'momma, momma,' but my cries were in vain. That was the last time I ever saw her tender and loving face. To this day, I have no idea of what ever became of her."